If you suffer from tooth decay, you have several options, including porcelain fillings and composite fillings. Which kind of filling material would be best for you? It depends on several factors, including:

  • The size of the cavity

  • The location of the cavity

  • Your budget

  • Your timeline

  • Your dietary and tooth-grinding habits

Being familiar with the pros and cons of porcelain fillings vs. composite fillings, how each works, and when each is indicated will help you to make a solid choice that hopefully lasts you long into the future.

What Are Porcelain Fillings?

Porcelain fillings, also known as porcelain inlays and onlays or ceramic fillings, are custom-made fillings made from a ceramic polymer material that can be placed over or into a cavity. Rather than being shaped and hardened into the cavity on the spot—like composite resin fillings—porcelain fillings are made in a lab before being cemented permanently onto your teeth.

You can think of a porcelain filling as being a bit like a porcelain crown, except that it's much smaller and is used to complete a tooth that maintains most of its natural tooth structure rather than one that can no longer stand on its own.

How Are Porcelain Fillings Placed?

Placing porcelain fillings takes more than one visit because the new additions must be custom-made for the shape of the cavity in each tooth. During your first visit, the dentist will clean out the decay, take an impression of the empty space, and often place a temporary filling to prevent any further tooth decay while your porcelain inlays or onlays are made.

After your dental fillings are created in the lab, your dentist will call you back for the final restoration. In this office visit, the custom-made porcelain inlays/onlays will be cemented onto or into the damaged teeth. Most patients can complete the process with two sessions in the dental chair, although this may depend on the number of fillings you need and whether you also opt for laser teeth whitening (this would need to be done first).

How Long Do Porcelain Fillings Last?

Compared to composite fillings, which last around 5-10 years on average, porcelain fillings generally last for at least 15 years, making them a much longer-term investment. The durability of porcelain fillings even exceeds that of gold fillings and silver amalgam fillings, which typically last up to 15 years.

Because ceramic fillings are so durable, you will generally have fewer dental visits over the course of time compared to composite resin fillings, even though it takes two visits at the outset to have your ceramic fillings sized and placed. For patients who are still relatively young and have cavities in their adult teeth, the durability of ceramic fillings makes them an excellent choice for long-term oral health.

Additional Advantages of Porcelain Fillings

In addition to their impressive durability, porcelain fillings also offer other advantages, including:

  • Resistance to staining. Unlike traditional fillings, porcelain fillings don't become discolored over time, making them a great option for patients who drink tea or coffee and those who have invested in (or are considering) laser tooth whitening.

  • Resistance to cracking. Compared to traditional fillings, porcelain fillings won't become cracked or chipped, protecting the natural tooth underneath from further decay.

  • Don't expand and contract. Whereas silver and gold fillings can expand and contract, porcelain fillings maintain their shape, making them even more resistant to cracking.

  • Non-toxic. While composite fillings aren't toxic, silver amalgam fillings that contain mercury can cause adverse effects in some people. Others may have allergies to nickel or another mineral used as part of a silver amalgam filling, and both of these problems are avoided with porcelain.

  • Natural appearance. Compared to any other type of filling, ceramic fillings have the most natural appearance. They can be matched exactly to the color and shape of your other teeth.

Do Porcelain Fillings Have Any Risks?

You know all about the advantages of porcelain fillings vs. composite fillings, but do porcelain fillings have any drawbacks? Speaking from experience, there are very few—if any drawbacks to porcelain fillings vs. fillings made from composite resins. However, there are a few cases in which porcelain fillings may not be the best option:

  • Baby teeth. Children with cavities should focus on learning good oral hygiene practices and having their existing cavities filled with resin—or in some cases with glass ionomer cement fillings. There is no point in crafting a porcelain inlay for a tooth that will fall out.

  • Chipped teeth. The nature of porcelain fillings also makes them unsuitable as a material with which to repair chipped teeth. The most popular treatment solutions for chipped teeth are cosmetic bonding and porcelain veneers.

  • Tiny cavities. The extra bulk of ceramic fillings makes them less suitable for minor dental problems and lightly worn teeth, for which composite resin fillings are usually sufficient.

  • Small budget. Porcelain fillings are the most expensive type of filling because of their durability and the process required to produce custom-shaped inlays and onlays. If you want porcelain inlays or onlays and don't have the money upfront, many dental clinics (including Dr. Glosman's) offer payment plans.

  • Short timeline. If you need fillings ASAP for a wedding or another big event, you may not have the time to wait for your custom inlays or onlays to arrive. In this case, you might consider composite fillings as a short-term option and have them replaced with porcelain fillings later on.

How Much Do Porcelain Fillings vs Composite Fillings Cost?

In general, porcelain fillings are comparatively larger than traditional fillings, which contributes to the total cost. While individual dentist costs will vary, you can expect to pay at least $250 to $1,500 per porcelain filling in Beverly Hills. Keep in mind that ceramic crowns often cost between $1,000 and $3,500, so the cost of large inlays or onlays could be similar to the cost of a crown.

You can work out whether the costs involved with ceramic fillings would end up being lower over time by comparing them to the costs of another type of filling and how long that filling would last. In most cases, a well-placed ceramic filling will be more cost-effective long-term than composite or amalgam fillings that need to be replaced every five to ten years.

When Should You Consider Porcelain Fillings vs. Composite Fillings?

There are several special situations in which ceramic fillings provide an advantage over other types of fillings (including composite resin, gold, and silver amalgam):

  • Large cavities. The strength of porcelain is unparalleled for large fillings. Moreover, the inlay/onlay is easier to make when the space it will fill is comparatively large.

  • Tooth grinding. The strength of porcelain fillings is also a plus for people who grind their teeth or eat especially hard or crunchy foods as they are far less likely to crack.

  • Tea and coffee drinkers. As porcelain fillings don't become discolored, they are the best option for people who drink tea and coffee or consume other substances that could stain their teeth.

Can You Replace Amalgam Fillings with Porcelain Fillings?

If you already have silver fillings and wish you'd gone for porcelain instead, don't worry—it's not too late! You can have your amalgam or mercury fillings taken out and ceramic fillings put in their place. Having amalgam fillings replaced with ceramic fillings offers several advantages:

  • Ceramic inlays/onlays (tooth-colored fillings) are visually unnoticeable, whereas amalgam fillings are visible to onlookers.

  • Ceramic fillings are non-toxic and non-allergenic, reducing the risk of allergies and eliminating any health risks from nickel and mercury.

  • Ceramic fillings last far longer than amalgam fillings, making them an excellent long-term option when it comes time for a replacement filling.

Other Porcelain Dental Additions

As mentioned previously, porcelain can be used for more than just fillings. Depending on the exact nature of your dental problems, consider:

  • Porcelain crowns and bridges. When the natural tooth structure is too small to support an onlay, crowns and bridges (a series of crowns joined at the side) can be made to fit over the tooth, capping it completely.

  • Porcelain veneers. Porcelain veneers are thin shells that are cemented onto the front of the existing teeth, creating a flawless appearance and a beautiful smile.

  • Dental implants. When a tooth is missing, knocked out, or unsalvageable, an artificial ceramic tooth can be implanted into the jaw bone with a titanium post and abutment.

Are Porcelain Fillings Worth It?

Porcelain dental fillings are ideal for people with cavities who are invested in their long-term dental health and are able to afford the cost (either up-front or over time). As you will have seen in this discussion of porcelain fillings vs. composite fillings, porcelain dental fillings are stronger, more durable, more stain-resistant, and in many cases a better value for the money. 

If you are considering porcelain dental fillings, it's important to find a Beverly Hills cosmetic dentist who is trained and experienced in the art of creating beautiful, tooth-like ceramic fillings. When you do, you can be sure that it's an investment you'll appreciate long into the future.

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