Amalgam vs. Composite Fillings, Now in English Please
If you are like me, you can see the difference between the amalgam (silver) and composite (white) fillings your dentist uses, but do you really understand the distinction beyond color? Your employees may come to you with questions about the safety of the two material options or about dental benefits for each type of material.
This post will help you answer those questions, and address a debate as famous as the Hatfield-McCoy feud.
Amalgam and Composite Fillings Defined
Amalgam fillings are the silver fillings made from a mixture of metals, including silver, tin, zinc and copper. So-called “silver fillings” have been used in dentistry for more than 150 years. These fillings are considered the most affordable and the industry standard to treat tooth decay.
Composite fillings are made from acrylic components and glass particles. This combination of material bonds really well to the natural tooth to provide extra support, and causes less tooth structure loss. Many patients prefer this option because it is cosmetically more appealing than silver fillings. However, it takes longer to put composite fillings in place, and they are more expensive than dental amalgam.
Safe or Not?
The small amounts of mercury found in amalgam fillings have raised some health and safety questions, resulting in a plethora of research on dental amalgam. Results of the extensive study conclude no correlation between the small amounts of mercury released from amalgam fillings and negative health effects. Bottom line – both amalgam and composite fillings are considered safe by the American Dental Association.
Dental Insurance vs. Composite Fillings
If amalgam and composite fillings are both considered a safe and effective way to treat tooth decay, why do dental plans cover amalgam fillings and not composite fillings? Many dental plans and carriers have an “Alternative Benefit Provision” that provides benefits for the most cost-efficient yet effective dental services and treatments. Translated into everyday English – the insurance carrier will pay for the least expensive treatment when there is more than one acceptable treatment method.
However, there are times when a dental plan will cover composite fillings. For example, if your dental plan contains a cosmetic rider or if the patient has documented allergies to metal. If these exceptions do not apply, the insurance carrier will pay the dental plan’s designated portion for the cost of an amalgam filling. If the patient elects a composite filling, he/she will be responsible for the difference in cost (balance billing), in addition to any applicable coinsurance.
The Alternate Benefit Provision helps ensure that your employees receive the most effective and cost-efficient dental services and treatments, which is an asset for your employee benefits program. In group benefits, lower expenses can provide your group overall savings on future premiums and renewal rates. But, any dentist will tell you that the most cost-effective and safest practice is to maintain good oral health, including preventive dental services, to avoid the need for fillings in the first place.
What other dental benefits questions do you experience? Submit a comment with commonly asked questions, and we will try to help you educate your employees through an upcoming blog post.