What is a Composite Filling?

In dental terminology, there are many words or phrases that we throw around assuming people know what we are talking about.  The reality is a familiarity with a specific term does not equal an understanding of what it means.  In this week’s blog, we will explain what we mean by the term “composite filling”, and how we use it in dentistry.

What is a Filling?

A filling is the common term used to describe the dental restoration that replaces missing tooth structure.  Most fillings serve the purpose of replacing tooth structure destroyed by cavities, and some also replace tooth structure lost to heavy wear or cracks.

When you have a cavity, your dentist must remove the infected tooth structure to reach solid, healthy tooth structure.  This removal of unhealthy tooth structure leaves a physical hole in the tooth, which your dentist then fills in with dental restorative material.  The filling must restore the tooth to its original shape and withstand the forces of chewing.

What is Composite?

Composite resin is a specific type of dental restorative material, usually referred to as simply “composite”.  Resin is a type of plastic, and dental composite resin has tiny glass particles interspersed throughout the material.  Composite resin has been used in dentistry for decades with long term success.

Prior to the development of composite resin as a filling material, dentists were limited to the use of metal for restoring cavities, both mercury amalgam and gold.  As advances in dental materials searched for restorations that were both safer and more natural in appearance, composite resins grew in popularity.

Today, composite resins are the most prevalent type of restoration placed in the US.

What are the Advantages of Composite Fillings?

Composite resin has risen in popularity for a reason!  It has many advantages over other historical filling materials.  Here are just a few reasons composite resin is superior to metal fillings.

Blends with Natural Tooth Color

The most appealing advantage of composite resin fillings for the patient is that it looks natural.  When your dentist restores a cavity or cracked tooth with composite resin, no one can see it.  Unlike old mercury fillings, which can be visible when you speak and laugh, the composite material blends in with your natural tooth color, making it virtually invisible.

Bonds with Healthy Tooth Structure

Composite resin material is able to bond with healthy tooth enamel and dentin.  It creates a micromechanical bond by projecting tiny fingers of material deep into the microscopic pores of the tooth structure.  This is the same mechanism through which an orthodontist “glues” orthodontic brackets onto the flat surface of the teeth.  It is a strong bond that strengthens the tooth and seals out decay.


Because of the bond it achieves with healthy tooth structure, composite resin material is more conservative than older filling materials.  Traditional materials require a specific method of preparation, creating undercuts, in order to retain the filling in the tooth.  This preparation requires removing healthy tooth structure in addition to the decayed area.  Composite resin does not require undercuts for retention because it bonds to the tooth.  This means that your dentist removes less tooth structure for a composite filling, making it the most conservative filling option.


Composite not only bonds to healthy tooth structure.  It also bonds to itself.  This allows us to repair it if it chips, cracks, or breaks.  When a portion of amalgam filling breaks, your dentist must remove the entire filling and replace it all.  When a composite filling breaks, your dentist can simply repair the broken area, leaving the rest alone.

Do You Need a Filling?

Call Timberlake Dental today at 940-382-1750 to schedule a consultation with Dr. Chowning.  He can answer any question you have about dental fillings and assess your specific situation, making recommendations for the best filling material to meet your needs.

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