Dental fillings are what a dentist use to fill cavities (small holes) in teeth caused by tooth decay. Additionally, they can also be used to repair cracks and fractures in teeth.
To begin the procedure, the dentist will numb the area around the affected tooth with a local anesthetic. The dentist will then use a drill, air abrasion instrument or a laser to remove the decayed area. The choice of instrument will depend on the dentist, their comfort level, training, and investment in the particular piece of equipment used, as well as where the decay is located and how much is present.
Did you know that the average American has 3 dental fillings, while 25% of the population have 11 or more?
After testing the affected area and determining all decay has been removed, the dentist will then prepare for the filling by cleaning the space of all debris and bacteria. If the decay was present near the root, the dentist may first put in a liner to protect the nerves found in the root. After your filling is in, the dentist will shape and polish it.
If receiving a resin composite filling there may be extra steps that will be required. Resin composite may be applied in layers and cured (hardened) between each layer. Once the dentist has completed the resin composite filling, it will then be shaped, trimmed and polished to the desired result.
Dental fillings are durable but do not last forever. Metal fillings usually last about 10 to 15 years, resin composite fillings last five to seven years, porcelain fillings can last beyond 15 years, and glass ionomer lasts five years or less.
There are several options for dental fillings. Teeth can be filled with gold, silver amalgam (mercury mixed with silver, tin, zinc and copper), porcelain, glass ionomer, or tooth-colored plastic materials called resin composite fillings.
The location, amount of decay, cost of filling material, the dentist’s recommendation and insurance coverage all play a role in the type of filling that will be best for the patient.
To maintain teeth with fillings they should be taken care of just like the other teeth.
If the dentist suspects a filling may be cracked or “leaking” (when the sides of the filling do not fit within the tooth and saliva and debris can seep in between the filling and the tooth), they will take x-rays to assess the situation and create a treatment plan to fix the problem.
If a tooth with a filling becomes extremely sensitive, has a sharp edge, or a crack can be visibly seen, call the dentist immediately and schedule an appointment to address the problem.
Over the last several years, many concerns have been raised around the use of silver amalgam fillings because of mercury used when constructing them.
Although silver amalgam fillings do contain mercury, when mixed with other metals such as silver, copper, tin and zinc, they form a stable alloy that dentists have been using for more than 100 years.
Temporary fillings may be used when more than one appointment is required to fill a cavity (like with gold fillings), following a root canal, or to allow the nerves in a tooth to relax if they become irritated. They may also be used when an emergency appointment is needed.
Temporary fillings are not meant to last long. They usually fall out, fracture, or wear out within a month. Contact a dentist is any signs of a failing temporary filling occur. If you do not replace the temporary filling with a permanent filling the tooth could become infected or result in other more problematic complications.
Gary W. Allen, DMD, P.C., Advantage Dental Group, P.C., DentaQuest Oral Health Center of Massachusetts, P.C., Advantage Dental Oral Health and Vision Center of Alabama, P.C.