If a patient needs a filling, they are generally given two options by their dentist: resin or amalgam. Both have their applications. Here’s a bit of history about where they came from and how they work.
Amalgam is a silver alloy that has its origins in China, dating back to the Tang Dynasty in 659 AD. In 1833, an amalgam composed of shaved French silver coins and mercury was introduced to America as the “Royal Mineral Succedaneum.” The material’s introduction caused the “amalgam wars”—the American Society of Dental Surgeons considered use of amalgam to be malpractice and would kick out any members using it. In 1877, the laboratory research of J. Foster Flagg changed peoples opinions regarding dental amalgam and it became widely accepted, and in 1900, SS White created the first true dental alloy.
Amalgam is still used to today, although some of its ingredients have been changed since its introduction in 1900. It has both pros and cons. Amalgam is great because it generally lasts a long time and it seals the teeth well. It is more cost-effective and it isn’t as moisture sensitive as other materials. The downsides are that it isn’t attractive esthetically and it becomes darker with age. In larger restorations, it may cause tooth fracture. Some patients are also concerned by the fact that it contains mercury, but studies of amalgam have shown that it is a safe and reliable option.
Composite resin materials were not used applied to dental uses until the 1960s, when Dr. Ray Bowen was heavily involved in developing composite resin. Today, patients and dentists alike enjoy using resins because of aesthetics and the fact that the material bonds to teeth. Smaller preparations can also be applied, which does not compromise tooth structure as much. The downfall of resin is that it more expensive and has to be used in completely dry environments, or the restoration will be compromised.