People of all ages can experience tooth decay. Early treatment with dental fillings can reduce the development of cavities and potential health problems that may result. These include abscesses, infected pulp, tooth loss and decreased jawbone volume. After the decayed tissue is removed, a substance made from gold, enamel or porcelain fills in the remainder.
Fillings can be used to repair cavities, cracks, minor broken areas and certain degrees of wear, as well as restore bite strength and prevent further decay or infection. If a dentist recommends this procedure, learn more about the types of dental fillings available.
How Dental Fillings Work
To start the process, your dentist will numb the area around the tooth before using a drill or another tool to remove the decaying tissue. The area is then cleaned to flush out any residual bacteria or debris.
The filling is added next, perhaps with a protective substance for the nerve. After it hardens, the dentist polishes and cures the filling before testing your bite. For a more precise fit, the dentist might make some adjustments like trimming off excess or protruding material before polishing the area and testing your bite again.
Common Dental Filling Materials
Multiple materials are used for fillings. Your dentist may select one of the following based on your dental history, location of decay, aesthetics and insurance coverage.
Many consider gold to be the classic dental filling material. Yet despite its durability and longevity, gold fillings have become less popular in recent years for aesthetic reasons.
Gold fillings can last a minimum of 10 years and are not susceptible to corrosion. Yet they stand out in your mouth, cost more than other metals and require multiple visits to add. Patients who also have silver amalgam may experience shock from an adjacent gold filling.
The “amalgam” involves adding mercury, tin, zinc and copper to silver to create a metal filling that lasts at least 10 years. Like gold, silver amalgam offers a greater degree of durability that withstands chewing and other abrasive forces.
Yet, patients have some concerns. Beyond aesthetics and a higher cost, the inclusion of mercury has come into question for its potential long-term effect on the lungs, brain and kidneys. Patients may also experience an allergic reaction to mercury.
To add a silver amalgam filling, more of the tooth needs to be removed and the remainder has a higher risk of cracking due to the material’s ability to expand.
Designed to match your existing teeth, composite resin fillings are often barely noticeable and more often recommended by dentists. Mechanical bonding allows the material to support the tooth’s structure, also making them ideal for chipped or broken teeth. As a third benefit, less of the tooth needs to be removed to add a composite resin filling.
However, composite resin has a few downsides. The material tends to be more expensive yet not as durable as metal options, lasting about five years. Composite resin is also more susceptible to abrasive forces, which increases the likelihood of chipping and requires the filling to be applied again. More procedures might also be required to add them.
Porcelain or Ceramic
Composite resin is not the only material that can visually blend in with a tooth: Porcelain or ceramic fillings provide the same aesthetic and resist staining with greater durability, lasting at least 15 years.
Yet, this combination often comes with a higher price tag and may cause wear to adjacent teeth.
A newer type of filling, glass ionomer blends acrylic and glass to last a minimum of five years and can also deliver fluoride directly to the tooth.
This combination makes glass ionomer better for children than for adults. These fillings are not ideal long term, as they can show wear and eventually fracture.
Similar to crowns, indirect fillings are manufactured in a laboratory before being secured in the patient’s mouth. Made of composite resin, porcelain or gold, indirect fillings address teeth with more decay but not to the point a full crown is needed.
At least two appointments are involved and your dentist adds a temporary filling to protect the nerve and pulp. During these visits, your dentist first removes any decay and old filling material that’s present. An impression is taken of the tooth, which will then be used to create the permanent filling. During the second visit, your dentist secures and cures the permanent filling.
Indirect fillings include two types. Inlays are placed on a single tooth’s chewing surface, while onlays go over multiple teeth across the chewing surface.
Caring for Your Fillings
No matter the material your dentist selects, care improves the lifespan of your fillings:
- Practice good oral hygiene, brushing at least twice per day, flossing at least once per day and using a fluoride toothpaste and antibacterial mouthwash. Poor dental care can worsen decay, causing the filling to eventually fall out.
- Notify your dentist if the filled tooth is causing you pain. The material might fit poorly, which exposes the inside of your tooth to saliva, bacteria and food particles. This can worsen decay, cause an abscess or may require a crown.
- Avoid chewing, grinding or clenching your fillings, as this increases wear and can cause the material to chip or crack.
To learn more about fillings and other restorative dental procedures, contact our Shelton office today.