When your tooth needs a restoration due to a cavity or fracture, the dentist is always considering the different types of materials which may be used to restore your tooth and trying to select one that is right for your specific situation. There are a few factors to consider and things for you to keep in mind to understand and help in the process to select an appropriate material to achieve a long term successful restoration. Two type of materials which are often compared to each other are composite vs ceramic due to them both being “white” in colour and mimic natural tooth colour.
The Difference Between Ceramic and Composite
Both ceramic and composite materials are highly aesthetic and are designed to mimic the look of natural teeth. When placed well and highly polished it can sometimes be difficult to see the difference between filling and tooth!
Composite Resin Materials
Composite resin materials when placed on a tooth that is not receiving heavy load and not replacing a highly functional portion of the tooth; such as a tooth cusp, the filling can last for a long time from 10-15 years.
Composite resins are relatively straightforward to place, they take a relatively short period of time to place and can be completed in a single visit however making sure the tooth is clean and dry is essential for “bonding” the material to the tooth which does rely on the dentist’s skill. Composite resins are less brittle than ceramics but have greater wear at the edges so may not last as long as a bonded ceramic restoration. Composite resins are used when restoring teeth with minimal biting forces and can also be used as intermediate restorations when planning full mouth restorative cases.
Ceramics can be used on their own to create a restoration for a tooth either as an inlay, onlay, full crown or veneer or as a hybrid type crown (metal inner layer with porcelain/ceramic exterior). Ceramics have high aesthetics and can be bonded to the tooth to restore looks and function.
When placed adequately, ceramic restorations can last 15+ years, However when looking at composite vs ceramic, composite resins they are more brittle, with increased thickness there is increased brittleness and higher chance of cracks and chips, this is often mediated by carefully designing the ceramic in a laboratory and if concerned about brittleness, they can be bonded to an internal layer of metal to provide extra support for the ceramic (hybrid type crown).
One difference between ceramic and composite materials is that ceramics have better wear resistance, mechanical properties and have less stress on the surrounding tooth at the restoration-tooth margin. Ceramics are ideal for inlays, cusp coverage restoration such as crowns and onlays, and as highly aesthetic veneers. Ceramics are often used in smile makeover cases!
When to use Composite Resin?
• Large amount of tooth structure remaining
• Minimal biting forces
• Intermediate restorations to help design shape and colour prior to smile makeover
When to use Ceramics?
• Very high aesthetics, such as veneers or anterior crowns
• Covering cusps of molars to provide protection for weakened teeth.
• Heavily broken-down teeth.
• Closing the gap between two teeth, designed in the lab to precisely make an ideal contact point and prevent food packing.
• Restoring multiple teeth in a row to precisely design how the teeth bite together.
• Full mouth rehabilitation cases combining hybrid type crowns with ceramic/porcelain veneers.
As always, the long-term prognosis of any restoration also heavily relies heavily on the environment of the mouth it is placed in. The best way to help a filling or ceramic restoration last a very long time is impeccable oral hygiene and regular dental checkups.
Author: Dr Bryn Varjassy from Dentistry on Coolum