When Do Dentists Use Porcelain Fillings Instead of Silver Fillings?

Thanks to advances in modern dentistry, we now have several tools at our disposal to restore cavities and keep your teeth strong and healthy. When you have a tooth that needs a filling, we have different materials that we use to fill the tooth, and which material is best depends on several factors. Two of the most common filling materials used are porcelain and silver. Here’s a look at the times when the dentist will recommend using one or the other.

When Porcelain Fillings Are Best

Porcelain, which is a non-crystalline gas composed of silicon and oxygen, is often used as inlays on teeth. They are typically used for tooth fillings when:

  • The cavity in a tooth is large or in an area where maximum chewing pressure is required.
  • The cavity is in a tooth that is visible when you talk or smile, and matching your natural tooth color is important.

According to the American Dental Association, porcelain provides are a strong, reliable material for use in dental restoration. Many patients are choosing to have their old metal fillings replaced with porcelain to improve the appearance of their smiles. It does have its downsides, however. Porcelain is a brittle material, meaning it’s prone to breakage. In general, porcelain fillings don’t last as long as composite metal fillings, typically lasting 5-10 years while composite fillings can last 15-20 years. In addition, porcelain fillings are more expensive and more difficult to place in the mouth than their silver counterparts.

Porcelain fillings are in progress on a patient in Tempe, AZ

When Silver Is Better

Silver fillings are actually made of a mixture of a few different metals, including mercury, silver, tin, and copper. The mercury is used to bind the metals together and provide a strong, durable filling. While many people are concerned about the mercury content of dental amalgams, the chemical makeup of the mercury is changed when used as part of a dental amalgam, making the mercury essentially harmless.

Dental amalgams are cheaper and far more commonly used for filling small cavities. Amalgam is a better filling material when the filling is placed in areas of the mouth that are difficult to keep dry, such as molars or cavities below the gumline.

If you have a cavity, it’s important to address the problem right away. Ignoring a cavity can lead to more severe tooth decay, and even abscessed teeth. When you come in for a routine checkup, the dentist can tell you if you have cavities that need to be addressed. If it’s time for a checkup, be sure to make an appointment as soon as possible.