When a child gets their first cavity, the first question is usually this: Is it my fault? While it’s true that cavities can be caused by improper brushing and flossing, a sugary diet and lack of fluoride, there are other factors over which you have less control. The shape of the teeth, how close they are in the mouth, parental dental history and the unique composition of mouth bacteria all play a role in predisposition to cavities.
Baby teeth eventually fall out, so why fill them? The problems with leaving a cavity untouched can range from mild to severe. At minimum, anything from dental sensitivity to pain may result. At worse, an abscess and infection could occur. The worst case scenario is that the infection could spread to the brain and even be fatal. If a child has to lose a decayed tooth prematurely, there is an effect on how the permanent teeth grow in. Baby teeth are there for a reason — to hold the place for adult teeth. For all of these reasons, filling a cavity is usually the recommended course of treatment.
One burning question that concerns mothers is whether to get the amalgam (silver) or composite (white) fillings. Cost is certainly a deciding factor, but many mothers are more concerned with the mercury levels in amalgams.
The amalgam controversy arose because these fillings are 50 percent mercury, a known neurotoxin. Studies vary on the health risks of mercury in the mouth leaching into the body. Following a lawsuit, the FDA agreed to post a warning about the neurotoxic effects of mercury vapors released through chewing as being possibly harmful to children. The American Dental Association, however, continues to defend the use of amalgam fillings as safe, citing 150 years of supporting research.
White fillings, or composite resin, are made from acrylic plastics, quartz fillers and colorants. Composite fillings are increasingly popular, yet they are not as durable and therefore less apt to be covered by insurance.
Amalgams and composites both have their pros and cons, and weighing them will help you make the best decision for your child, your wallet and your peace of mind.
In general, 80 percent of fillings are covered by insurance but composites are more expensive. Most dental plans cover composites up to the cost of the amalgams and the patient is responsible for the difference. Some insurance plans cover composite fillings on teeth where there is more cosmetic benefit. Talk to your dentist, research your choices and be sure the dental office contacts your insurance provider for an estimate of total cost.
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