Dental Fillings

The key benefit of a dental filling is halting the progression of decay by repairing a damaged tooth and restoring its normal function and appearance.

Fillings are used to fix small areas of decay and they prevent further deterioration by providing a barrier against harmful bacteria.

A further benefit of fillings is that while replacing the damaged portion of a tooth, they preserve most of the tooth structure.

A filling can usually be placed during a single visit to your dentist and is less costly than dental crowns, which are used to repair larger areas of decay.

Fillings typically last several years, although not as long as crowns.

How Do Dentists Diagnose Cavities?

Dentists can use various methods to discover whether you have a cavity that needs a filling. These include:

• Observation – discolored spots on teeth may indicate decay.

• Probe – a metal instrument with a sharp tip that detects weakened, soft tooth enamel.

• Dye – adheres to decayed areas but rinses off healthy teeth.

• X-rays – to show decay developing in the dentin underneath tooth enamel and in the enamel on the sides of teeth.

• Laser fluorescence – small wands that measure changes caused by decay.

Composite Fillings Vs. Amalgam Fillings

Fillings are generally made from composite resin or amalgam.

Amalgam fillings (aka silver fillings) comprise a combination of silver, mercury, tin, and copper. The mercury makes up about half of the compound and binds the other metals to provide strength and durability.

Composite fillings (also called white fillings or tooth-colored fillings) are made from a ceramic and plastic compound and look more like natural teeth than amalgam fillings.

Because composite fillings replicate the shade and sheen of teeth and blend seamlessly for a natural appearance, they’re a popular option to fix cavities in more visible areas of the mouth.

The resin component of composite fillings provides strong adhesion to a tooth surface, and its flexibility means less drilling is needed to restore the maximum amount of tooth structure.

Another benefit of composite fillings is that they can be used to change the shape and size of teeth to enhance your smile.

On the downside, composite fillings generally last for only five to seven years, compared with the typical amalgam filling lifespan of 10 to 15 years.

Another drawback is that the composite fillings procedure is more complex than getting an amalgam filling, so treatment takes longer.

Amalgam fillings can be more resistant to future decay but are more conspicuous – less of a concern when used to repair back teeth.

Sometimes, healthy areas of a tooth have to be removed to create enough room to hold an amalgam filling.

Both the American Dental Association (ADA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have confirmed that the low levels of mercury in amalgam fillings are safe.

The Filling Process

Many patients getting a filling opt for local anesthesia to numb the area around the tooth before drilling.

The filling process entails:

• Removal of the decayed section of the tooth – your dentist will cut through the enamel with a drill or laser to remove decay. A laser filling may not require anesthetic.

• Shaping the space and cleaning the area in preparation for the filling.

• Polishing the tooth.

The composite filling procedure includes:

• Use of an acidic gel to etch exposed surfaces to help adhesion.

• A bonding agent, hardened with a special blue light.

• Application of the filling material in layers.

• Curing the material with the blue light.

Why You Might Need a Filling

Fillings provide an effective solution for relatively minor tooth cavities and small fractures in a tooth.

A filling not only seals a cavity but helps to even out the surface of the tooth and improve your bite function.

Fillings can also significantly reduce the sensitivity caused when decay destroys tooth enamel – the outer, protective layer of a tooth.

If you develop a cavity, it’s important to have it diagnosed and properly filled as soon as possible to avoid further damage that could result in the need for extraction.

Back teeth – molars and premolars – are particularly vulnerable to decay. The numerous nooks and crannies of these teeth are a magnet for food debris and are harder to clean than your front teeth.

Cavities aren’t the only reason you may need a filling, which can also be used to repair cracks in teeth and damage from habits such as

• Nail-biting.

• Tooth grinding.

• Using your teeth to open things.

Temporary Fillings

Fillings can also be a temporary measure ahead of more comprehensive dental treatment.

You may need a temporary filling if:

• Your treatment requires more than one visit to the dentist.

• There’s a waiting period during treatment for a tooth to heal.

• You’re getting root canal treatment.

• You need emergency dental treatment.

A temporary filling seals a damaged tooth, lessens sensitivity and protects it from bacterial infection.

Lessening Your Risk of Cavities

Tooth decay resulting in cavities occurs when particles of foods rich in sugars and starches get lodged on and between your teeth. Oral bacteria digest this food debris and convert it into acids that eat into tooth enamel, creating holes.

Maintaining a good routine of oral hygiene will greatly increase your chances of remaining cavity-free.

• Clean your teeth at least twice a day by brushing with a fluoride toothpaste.

• Floss every day.

• Use a fluoride, anti-bacterial mouthwash daily.

• Stick to a healthy, balanced diet.

• Limit snacks.

Preventive dental care – such as regular check-ups and professional cleanings – will also reduce your risk of getting cavities. Fluoride treatments and dental sealants are also available to strengthen and protect teeth.

Choosing Your Type of Filling

Some people are more susceptible to cavities than others, and tooth decay is a common health problem worldwide.

Fillings restore normal function and appearance to teeth damaged by decay and help to prevent further degeneration.

Once, all fillings were made from metal amalgam but advances in dental technology have resulted in alternatives such as composite fillings.

Several factors influence the choice of the type of filling material, including cost, the extent of damage, and which part of your mouth needs the filling.

A dentist specializing in fillings can give you further advice about the benefits of fillings and help you decide which type of filling is best for you.