Filling Materials

A number of very good filling materials are available these days. New materials and improvements on the old ones are being introduced all the time. In just about every case, there’ll be the right filling material for that particular job. Price is usually the only obstacle to getting the best filling possible. But if  you can’t afford the very best, there will always be a less expensive choice that will do the job until you can.  When your dentist presents you with the best treatment plan that he/she put together, it will include the most appropriate filling for your individual situation.  But the final choice will be up to you.


The amalgam (or silver, or silver-mercury) filling starts out as a powdered mixture of silver( 33 to 37 percent), tin( 12 to 14 percent), cooper ( 0 to 3 percent), and zinc(0 to 1 percent).  Liquid mercury (about 50 percent) is then added to mix and bind the other metals together to form a paste (in the same way as water is used to blend the ingredients of a cake mix) that can be easily placed into the cavity. Some, but not all, of the mercury is squeezed out before the paste is placed into the cavity. After the paste is placed in the cavity, it is “carved” to conform to the contours of the tooth, and the resultant filling, which partially sets in a few minutes, can be chewed on in a few hours.

Without the support of enough tooth structure, an amalgam filling isn’t strong enough to withstand the forces of chewing. Therefore they are less effective when placed in large cavities. If the decay is extensive and undermines the cusps of the tooth, an onlay or crown must be used. On the other hand, amalgam is easy and quick to work with and it’s inexpensive. If it weren’t for the controversy over mercury it would unquestionably be considered a great filling material. The pros and cons of having a filling that contains mercury placed in your teeth will be discussed later.


The advances in this tooth-colored material have made it more versatile than ever. Today’s composites not only adhere to the tooth better but also resist temperature changes. Some contain materials that resist decay. There is even a composite that can withstand the forces of mastication. And composites are the most natural-looking fillings. These improvement mean that composites can often be used in place of amalgam fillings if you are concerned about aesthetics or the mercury in amalgam fillings.

The important thing is to make sure that your dentist is up-to-date on the latest composite materials. My personal recommendation is to use composite fillings whenever possible and to use porcelain-to-metal crowns, if the decay is so extensive that composites can’t be used. If you have children, I suggest composite fillings rather amalgam, but let your dentist explain your filling options before you make a decision.


This is an easy one to describe. A temporary filling is one that is used to temporarily fill a cavity until a permanent restoration can be placed. It’s often used in emergency situations, or when there’s not enough time to put in a permanent restoration. Also, because it often contains a nere-calming ingredient, a temporary filling is placed when the decay has progressed too close to the nerve. This gives the nerve a chance to calm down so a restoration can eventually be placed.