Direct composite resin fillings versus amalgam fillings for permanent posterior teeth

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2021 Aug 13;8(8):CD005620. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD005620.pub3.


Background: Traditionally, amalgam has been used for filling cavities in posterior teeth, and it continues to be the restorative material of choice in some low- and middle-income countries due to its effectiveness and relatively low cost. However, there are concerns over the use of amalgam restorations (fillings) with regard to mercury release in the body and the environmental impact of mercury disposal. Dental composite resin materials are an aesthetic alternative to amalgam, and their mechanical properties have developed sufficiently to make them suitable for restoring posterior teeth. Nevertheless, composite resin materials may have potential for toxicity to human health and the environment. The United Nations Environment Programme has established the Minamata Convention on Mercury, which is an international treaty that aims "to protect the [sic] human health and the environment from anthropogenic emissions and releases of mercury and mercury compounds". It entered into force in August 2017, and as of February 2021 had been ratified by 127 governments. Ratification involves committing to the adoption of at least two of nine proposed measures to phase down the use of mercury, including amalgam in dentistry. In light of this, we have updated a review originally published in 2014, expanding the scope of the review by undertaking an additional search for harms outcomes. Our review synthesises the results of studies that evaluate the long-term effectiveness and safety of amalgam versus composite resin restorations, and evaluates the level of certainty we can have in that evidence.

Objectives: To examine the effects (i.e. efficacy and safety) of direct composite resin fillings versus amalgam fillings.

Search methods: An information specialist searched five bibliographic databases up to 16 February 2021 and used additional search methods to identify published, unpublished and ongoing studies SELECTION CRITERIA: To assess efficacy, we included randomised controlled trials (RCTs) comparing dental composite resin with amalgam restorations in permanent posterior teeth that assessed restoration failure or survival at follow-up of at least three years. To assess safety, we sought non-randomised studies in addition to RCTs that directly compared composite resin and amalgam restorative materials and measured toxicity, sensitivity, allergy, or injury.

Data collection and analysis: We used standard methodological procedures expected by Cochrane.

Main results: We included a total of eight studies in this updated review, all of which were RCTs. Two studies used a parallel-group design, and six used a split-mouth design. We judged all of the included studies to be at high risk of bias due to lack of blinding and issues related to unit of analysis. We identified one new trial since the previous version of this review (2014), as well as eight additional papers that assessed safety, all of which related to the two parallel-group studies that were already included in the review. For our primary meta-analyses, we combined data from the two parallel-group trials, which involved 1645 composite restorations and 1365 amalgam restorations in 921 children. We found low-certainty evidence that composite resin restorations had almost double the risk of failure compared to amalgam restorations (risk ratio (RR) 1.89, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.52 to 2.35; P < 0.001), and were at much higher risk of secondary caries (RR 2.14, 95% CI 1.67 to 2.74; P < 0.001). We found low-certainty evidence that composite resin restorations were not more likely to result in restoration fracture (RR 0.87, 95% CI 0.46 to 1.64; P = 0.66). Six trials used a split-mouth design. We considered these studies separately, as their reliability was compromised due to poor reporting, unit of analysis errors, and variability in methods and findings. Subgroup analysis showed that the findings were consistent with the results of the parallel-group studies. Three trials investigated possible harms of dental restorations. Higher urinary mercury levels were reported amongst children with amalgam restorations in two trials, but the levels were lower than what is known to be toxic. Some differences between amalgam and composite resin groups were observed on certain measures of renal, neuropsychological, and psychosocial function, physical development, and postoperative sensitivity; however, no consistent or clinically important harms were found. We considered that the vast number of comparisons made false-positive results likely. There was no evidence of differences between the amalgam and composite resin groups in neurological symptoms, immune function, and urinary porphyrin excretion. The evidence is of very low certainty, with most harms outcomes reported in only one trial.

Authors' conclusions: Low-certainty evidence suggests that composite resin restorations may have almost double the failure rate of amalgam restorations. The risk of restoration fracture does not seem to be higher with composite resin restorations, but there is a much higher risk of developing secondary caries. Very low-certainty evidence suggests that there may be no clinically important differences in the safety profile of amalgam compared with composite resin dental restorations. This review supports the utility of amalgam restorations, and the results may be particularly useful in parts of the world where amalgam is still the material of choice to restore posterior teeth with proximal caries. Of note, however, is that composite resin materials have undergone important improvements in the years since the trials informing the primary analyses for this review were conducted. The global phase-down of dental amalgam via the Minamata Convention on Mercury is an important consideration when deciding between amalgam and composite resin dental materials. The choice of which dental material to use will depend on shared decision-making between dental providers and patients in the clinic setting, and local directives and protocols.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Bias
  • Child
  • Composite Resins / therapeutic use*
  • Dental Amalgam / therapeutic use*
  • Dental Caries / therapy*
  • Dentition, Permanent
  • Humans
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic


  • Composite Resins
  • Dental Amalgam