Alternative Fillings: The Myriad Options for Dental Restoration

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The last post covered the potentially harmful effects dental amalgam has on the human body, despite its prevalent use in filling cavities. In light of growing concerns over dental amalgam-caused mercury exposure, alternative fillings are being developed, tested and put into practice.

The reason dental amalgam has maintained its commonality despite health worries is its cheapness and its durability. Very few materials are as strong and resistant as human enamel, and finding permanent solutions to the spaces left by treating dental issues has proved to be a challenging task.

New Dental Alternative: Glass Ionomer Cement  

A challenging task indeed, but not an impossible one. Scholars in Copenhagen have landed on glass ionomer cement as the new dental alternative. Glass ionomer cement is a combination of fluoro-aluminosilicate glass powder and polyacrylic acid liquid. It does not require a lamp or special equipment to cure and does not require a secondary adhesive layer to attach to the tooth, allowing for ease and accessibility in its application. It also slowly releases fluoride after its application, which aids in preventing future dental decay.

Nano-Composite Resins: Zirconia Nanoplates

Scholars in America have been tackling this problem concurrently. Researchers have been working on creating a new, safe and seamless filling. Scholars at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, funded by the National Institutes of Health, have been working on a plastic-like compound made from zirconia nanoplates. As the name suggests, the zirconia crystals are the same as those used in the creation of fake gemstones. Though, unlike gemstone-centered zirconia, the kind in this compound gains an increased, and extremely useful, hardness in the orientation of its atoms. The filling is cured under a lamp to set to the teeth without shrinkage. It also blends in better as it is a white or cream color.

This filling is part of a larger composite category called nano-composite resins. They are named for the nano-sized particles that make up the filling’s compound. Zirconia and silica are currently two approved nano-composite resins, and scholars hope to discover more thorough testing. Because of the resin’s small scale, scholars must be careful when approving new composites, as they could have swift and harmful side effects. The main goal of a filling is the remineralization of the decayed area of the tooth. If a composite does not foster that healing quickly, it can cause greater problems like reinfection.

Building Block Fmoc-Pentafluoro-L-Phenylalanine

Though nano-composite resins lack mercury and blend in well with teeth, researchers still bemoan the compound’s lack of anti-bacterial/microbial properties. To improve the filling beyond safety and stability, doctors from a variety of institutions are working on a new compound. They hope to manufacture a filling with durability, safety and aesthetics all considered. They have discovered natural antibacterial properties in the building block Fmoc-pentafluoro-L-phenylalanine, which serves both a structural and functional purpose in the compound. Utilizing this, the filling could hypothetically protect against bacteria, better serving the oral health of the patient and preventing dental decay. This compound can also potentially be expanded in its use for tissue scaffolds and wound dressings.

These fillings serve as improved, accessible alternatives to dental amalgam. Now instead of a filling that is unsightly and potentially toxic, patients have access to ones effectively invisible and ineffective to the body. If you have concerns or are just curious as to the filling your dentist uses, do not hesitate to ask!