Composite resins (White fillings)

What is a Composite resin (white filling)?

A composite resin is a toothcolored plastic mixture 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. Composites 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.

How is a composite placed?

Following preparation, the dentist places the composite in layers, using a light specialized to harden each layer. When the process is finished, the dentist will shape the composite to fit the tooth. The dentist then polishes the composite to prevent staining and early wear.

How long does it take to place a composite?

Because a composite is more difficult to place than silver fillings, it takes the dentist about 10-20 minutes longer to place. Placement time depends on the size and location of the cavity.

What is the cost?
Prices vary, but composites average about one-and-a-half to two times the price of a silver filling. Most dental insurance plans cover the cost of the composite up to the price of a silver filling, with the patient paying the difference. As composites continue to improve, insurance companies are more likely to cover the cost of composites.

What are the advantages of composites?

Esthetics are the main advantage, since dentists can blend shades to create a color nearly identical to that of the actual tooth. Composites bond to the tooth to support the remaining tooth structure, which helps to prevent breakage and insulate the tooth from excessive temperature changes.

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What are the disadvantages?

Along with the higher cost and the extra placement time, the patient can experience postoperative sensitivity. Also, the shade of the composite can change slightly if the patient drinks tea, coffee or other staining foods. The dentist can put a clear plastic coating over the composite to prevent the color from changing if a patient is particularly concerned about tooth color. Another drawback: composites tend to wear out sooner than silver fillings in larger cavities, although they hold up as well in small cavities.

How long will a composite last?

Studies have shown that composites last 7-10 years, which is comparable to silver fillings except in very large restorations, where silver fillings last much longer than composites.

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Send comments to:Dr. Jay Last Update February 16, 2006