Dental Restorations: Porcelain vs. Composite

Question mark leaning on a tooth

Dental restorations have been around since approximately 166-201 AD. During this time, the Estruscans began to experiment with dental prosthetics such as dental crowns and fixed bridgework. Then, in 700 AD, the Chinese began to use a “silver paste” which is believed to be the beginnings of silver amalgam. Gold fillings were a common dental treatment in Germany during the 1530s. In 1746 a man named Claude Mouton began to introduce the idea of enameling gold crowns for aesthetic appearance.

This eventually led to the 1789 patent for porcelain teeth, which was obtained by Nicolas Dubois de Chemant. Later in 1825, Samuel Stockton established White Dental Manufacturing Company which was a dental supply company that manufactured porcelain teeth. As dentistry then entered the 20th and 21st centuries, numerous advancements in the use of dental materials further sculpted dentistry into what it is today. 

Modern dental restorations have allowed modern dental technology to repair teeth that would have otherwise been lost to decay or damage. By restoring the tooth to its previous state, dental restorations also allow for restored function, specifically chewing and speaking. Additionally, modern dental restorations are now also focused on restoring the aesthetic appearance of one’s smile. 

Nowadays, dental restorations are not only commonplace, but they offer patients a variety of options. One of these options is the type of dental material the restoration is made from. Dental restorations can be manufactured using a variety of dental materials such as: amalgam, composite resin, glass ionomer cement, resin modified glass-ionomer cement, porcelain, compomers, and acrylic polymers. 

At The Sadati Center for Aesthetic Dentistry, Dr. Sadati generally recommends the use of either porcelain or composite restorations for his patients. However, each dental restoration material has its different benefits and drawbacks, so deciding which is best can sometimes be a challenge. To help provide you with the necessary information to make an informed decision, let’s take a look at these different dental materials, their benefits and drawbacks, and how to best decide which is right for you. 

Porcelain vs. Composite: What are they?

The first thing you will need to consider when deciding between dental materials is simply what the materials are. Because of the fact that dental materials are not common knowledge, you may find yourself wondering at what the words porcelain and composite even mean when pertaining to dentistry. 

Dental porcelain, also known as dental ceramic or simply as porcelain, is made from ceramics which usually contain metal and non-metal elements. Generally dental ceramic is composed primarily of 70-85% feldspar, 12-25% quartz, up to 15% of glass, 3-5% of Kaolin, and about 1% of metal colourants. However, ceramic can also be divided into different classifcations based on microstructure, processing technique, and by their crystalline phase. Additionally, the type of ceramics can be determined by its firing temperature.  

Two porcelain dental crowns on a black background

Composite resin, also known as dental composite, is made from a mixture of powdered glass and plastic resin that can be colored to match the natural color of your teeth. Composite resins are generally applied to the teeth and then hardened into place using a special curing light. Because it binds to your enamel, minimal preparation is needed to ensure proper function. For this reason, composite restorations are often used when the preservation of natural tooth structure is a priority. 

Dental composite in tube

Porcelain vs. Composite: Benefits and Drawbacks

The next thing you will need to consider when deciding between dental materials is their respective benefits and drawbacks. Ultimately, no dental material is completely perfect and most will have some downsides. Understanding the benefits and drawbacks associated with each material will help you to decide which material will work best for your individual case. During your consultation, Dr. Sadati will also provide you with his professional opinion as well. At a glance, here are some of the most common benefits and drawbacks of porcelain and composite: 

Porcelain Benefits: 

  • Highly natural and aesthetic appearance
  • Highly durable (lasts about 10-15 years)
  • Resistant to stains and chips
  • Can be used on more severe cases

Porcelain Drawbacks: 

  • Require more removal of natural tooth structure for placement and is not reversible
  • Almost twice the cost of composite
  • May require multiple appointments for restoration placement

Composite Benefits: 

  • Experience a small amount of shrinkage, meaning that the risk for decay and restoration failure is decreased
  • More natural tooth structure is preserved during placement
  • More affordable ($250-$1,500 per tooth on average depending on restoration type)
  • Can be completed in a single office visit
  • Minimal prep means that procedure may be able to be reversed or modified at a later time

Composite Drawbacks:

  • Less durable 
  • Require more frequent replacement (only lasts about 5-7 years)
  • More likely to stain due to pourous material

Porcelain vs. Composite: Which is Right for Me?

Now that we’ve considered what the dental materials are and looked at their respective benefits and drawbacks, it’s time to determine which one is best for you. While ultimately, Dr. Sadati will need to evaluate your individual case and make his recommendations, here are some things you may want to consider when deciding between the two materials: 

The Type of Restoration: 

One thing you will need to consider is the type of dental restoration you are having placed. There are two types of restorations: direct and indirect. Direct restorations can be entirely performed in the mouth and generally consist of building up the tooth. Examples of direct restorations include fillings and composite bonding. Indirect restorations are those that must be fabricated outside the mouth and then cemented into place. Indirect restorations include: inlays/onlays, crowns, bridges, and veneers. Depending on the type of restoration, one material may be more beneficial than another. 

Different types of dental restorations on a black background

The Location in Your Mouth: 

Another thing you will need to consider is the location of the affected tooth. For teeth in the front of the mouth, aesthetics are generally the priority because front teeth are immediately visible. With teeth in the back of the mouth, however, durability can be the priority because back teeth generally endure more force than the front teeth. 

Your Dental Habits: 

Additionally, you will need to consider your dental habits. Do you keep up with daily brushing and flossing or do you slack off here and there? Because composite stains more readily, will you be able to reduce the amount of highly pigmented substances you consume and/or make sure to brush after their consumptions to reduce the possibility of staining? Carefully consider these questions and whether or not you are realistically willing to commit to certain behaviors. 

Also, are you a teeth grinder or clencher? If so, you may want to consider being fit for a nightguard to protect your restoration and keep it lasting longer. You will also want to take the presence of this habit into account when deciding on the material you should use. For those who exert a great deal of force or pressure on their teeth, porcelain is likely the better option. 

Your Natural Tooth Structure: 

To place any type of restoration there will need to be some preparation of your natural tooth structure. For composite, this preparation is limited, however porcelain usually requires more material is removed. Depending on whether your teeth are decayed or damaged, as well as how much natural tooth structure you currently have, one material may be a better choice. 

The Cost: 

Finally, you will need to consider the cost of the restoration. The total cost of your restoration will depend on the materials used, the location in your mouth, and the type of restoration. Generally speaking, composite is more affordable than porcelain, however it only lasts about half as long. This means that while the upfront cost is cheaper, you may end up paying more in the long run. Although the average lifespan is 5-7 years, things like teeth grinding and poor dental habits could cause the restoration to be replaced sooner than that. On the other hand, composite has a cheaper upfront cost and can be later replaced by a different restoration method in the future. 

Overall, there are several things to consider when deciding which dental material is best for you. To learn more about porcelain and composite restorations, and to find out which one would work best for your individual case, schedule a consultation with Dr. Sadati of The Sadati Center for Aesthetic Dentistyry today!