What are Composite fillings (white filling or resin fillings)?
Composite fillings are resins of tooth-colored plastic filled with glass (silicon dioxide). Introduced in the 1960s, dental composites were confined to the front teeth because they were not strong enough to withstand the pressure and wear generated by the back teeth. Since then, composites have been significantly improved and can be successfully placed in the back teeth as well. Composite fillings are not only used for restoring decay, but are also used for cosmetic improvements of the smile by changing the color of the teeth or reshaping disfigured teeth. You can see examples of cosmetic work done with composite fillings here.
How are composite fillings placed?
First, all decay is removed and the tooth is further prepared with some roughening so that it can be solidly bonded to. The next step usually involves placing some type of barrier to ensure the area can stay dry, does not get contaminated with saliva or blood, and that only the tooth we want to work on gets bonded to.
Once the tooth is ready, an etch is placed on the tooth to open pores that will allow a mechanical/chemical bond to form. Next a desensitizing agent is placed on the tooth and dried. This is followed by a primer and then a bonding agent that is cured with a special blue light. Finally the composite will be placed in layers, using the specialized light to harden each layer. When the process is finished, we will shape the composite to fit the bite. We then polish the composite to prevent staining and early wear.
What are the advantages of composite fillings?
Esthetics are the main advantage. Since we can blend shades to create a color nearly identical to that of the actual tooth. We can also repair composites without having to replace the entire filling. Composites bond to the tooth so they can help support the remaining tooth structure. This can be important long term to help prevent cracks leading to breakage of the tooth.
How long do composite fillings last?
That is a tricky question and the best answer we can give is that 90% of composite fillings are still around in 10 years (meta-analysis). However, composite fillings are technique sensitive, meaning there is great variance in longevity from operator to operator. If you are really interested in the data, I have written a blog post comparing amalgam and composite fillings. I have also written many blog posts on composite fillings in regards to technique and products. For busy people I will just say, it’s my job to stay on top of this stuff and as you can see from the blogs, I do. You are in good hands here.
How much do composite fillings cost?
There is no way to tell you this because it is all determined by size. It is hundreds of dollars, though. The range is typically $200-400. A composite veneer costs just under a thousand.