Ancient & Advanced Dental Fillings: A Comparison

Dental care has come a long way since its humble beginnings in the past. While many people still have all kinds of unpleasant feelings about going to the dentist (the teeth are very sensitive parts of the body after all!), one needs to keep in mind just how much the field of dentistry has evolved.

Ancient Forms of Dentistry


Ever heard of the 13,000-year-old fillings discovered in Tuscany? Based on microCT scans, electron microscopy, and residue analysis, scientists were able to reasonably theorize on one of the earliest incidents of dental care on record. 

The discovery was a clearly deliberate form of dentistry involving crude dental fillings comprised of vegetable fibers, bitumen, and hair. How the process involved in hollowing out the teeth is still uncertain, but it most likely involved very crude instruments (probably little more than sharpened rocks).

Considering the time, it’s unlikely that any form of effective painkiller was available; we can only guess as to the amount of pain the dental patient had to suffer through.

dental fillingsThe tooth is comprised of various layers. Going from the outermost layer inward, we have:

  • The Enamel: This is a mineral-composed film surrounding the tooth.
  • The Dentin: This is the hard, bony layer underneath the enamel.
  • The Pulp: This is soft tissue (hence the name “pulp”) underneath the dentin. The pulp contains the tooth nerve, supplying it with blood via vessels in the gums. 

So, this early form of dental care involved boring out the enamel and dentin until the tooth pulp was reached, clearing out the tooth pulp (and nerve!), and then stuffing the hole with a makeshift concoction of hair, oil, and vegetable fibers. Fortunately for all of us, we don’t live in those times anymore.

Modern Forms of Dentistry


dental fillingsToday, you don’t have to worry about dental fillings that are anything like the ones described above. Over time, sedation, painkillers, and more robust materials were designed to make dental fillings an easy alternative to suffering from cavity pain. Amalgam fillings were the most popular fillings for many years, but today many dentists are abandoning them for the following reasons:

  • They include upwards of 50% of mercury, an element that is today recognized as a toxic heavy metal that has negative effects on the human body over time.
  • They expand and contract due to temperature changes, creating microfractures in the tooth that can lead to substantial damage.
  • They have to be forced/wedged into place, creating microfractures from the very beginning of their installation. These microfractures create the perfect environment for bacteria and plaque to thrive.

Rather than using amalgam fillings, many modern dentists are instead choosing mercury-free fillings comprised of resin. These are a welcome alternative because they are adhesive (they don’t have to be forced into place), they’re far safer for the human body, they look and feel like natural tooth tissue (no metal mouth!), and they don’t change shape and proportion due to temperature changes they way amalgam fillings do. 

This material, combined with modern sedation and pain management, should mitigate a lot of the fear you might have about seeing your local dentist for a simple cavity.

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