The History of Dental Fillings

The History of Dental Fillings

Dental fillings have been used for centuries. There are reports of their use from as early as around 659 AD from the T'ang Dynasty in China, made of tin and silver. And in Germany around 1528.

Amalgam was introduced to the Western World in the 1830. Early version were made by mixing mercury with the filings of silver coins. However, there was controversy when the practice was brought to America. The use of dental amalgam was declared as malpractice until 1856 due to lack of research. Once approved, the practice took off and transformed dental care as teeth could be filled rather than having to be extracted.

Past, Present and Future Materials for Dental Fillings

Silver Amalgam

  • This has been the standard for hundreds of years due to the low cost, ease of application, strength and durability.
  • However, due to the inclusion of mercury in the mix, increasing concerns regarding toxicity and environmental pollution, health and aestherics, have reduced its popularity.
  • A mercury treaty was negotiated over several years to limit its use and some 140 countries agreed to sign in 2013.


  • These have become popular in recent years since the components have been refined since their invention to provide good durability and fracture resistance in small to mid sized fillings, comparable to silver amalgam.
  • They are composed of a mix of plastic and glass and colours can be matched closely to the original tooth colour which improves the aesthetic appearance. And can also be used to reshape teeth and as an alternative to crowns in some cases.
  • Drawbacks are that great care is needed in installing them to ensure the maximum lifetime and they may not last as long as silver amalgam in very large cavities.

Glass Ionomer Cement

  • This material has been used since the 70s but mostly in low stress areas as have lacked strength and abrasion resistance. But now researchers at University of Copenhagan have been studying different kinds of glass ionomer cement to see which material mix has the best properties for a wider range of dental fillings.
  • Benefits to this material is that no adhesive is needed, unlike for composites, which improves bonding. The cement also releases fluoride which can help prevent cavities by hardening the enamel
  • Also it is easy to mix and hardens without a lamp so would be a great boon in areas without electricity, e.g. African and South America.
  • The current drawback is the porousness, which needs to be reduced or filled with other materials, e.g. natural minerals, as liquid in the pores increase likelihood of breakage

Research continues.. We'll keep you posted!

Read more here in this Medical News Today article New research into materials for tooth fillings.

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