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Fillings

If you have never experienced a cavity, that's great! However, if you have had a cavity before, you're not alone. Studies indicate that about 78% of people have had at least one cavity by the time they reach 17 years old. The good news is that dental fillings offer a well-established treatment for cavities.


The purpose of a dental filling is to seal a small hole in your tooth, known as a cavity, which is caused by tooth decay. By filling the cavity, the spread of decay, which is caused by bacterial infection, is prevented. If left untreated, the decay can progress deeper into the tooth, reaching the sensitive inner pulp tissue located in the root canal. At that point, root canal treatment would be necessary.


Today, there are various materials used for dental fillings, but the general process of filling a tooth is similar. It begins with a clinical examination of the tooth, often accompanied by X-rays, to assess the extent of the decay. The decayed portion of the tooth is then removed, typically using a dental drill or similar handheld instrument. Before the procedure, the tooth is numbed with anesthesia to ensure you are comfortable and do not experience any pain. If you have anxiety about receiving injections, anti-anxiety medication or nitrous oxide (commonly known as laughing gas) can be used to help you relax. After the decay is removed, the remaining tooth structure is prepared by roughening or "etching" it with a mildly acidic solution. Translucent cement is then applied to bond the tooth and the filling material together.


Overall, dental fillings are a reliable and effective treatment for cavities, helping to restore the tooth's integrity and prevent further decay. Regular dental checkups can identify cavities in their early stages, enabling prompt treatment with fillings and reducing the need for more extensive procedures.


Types of Fillings


Dental fillings can be broadly classified into two categories: metal fillings and tooth-colored fillings. Each category has its own advantages and disadvantages, depending on the specific circumstances.


Metal Fillings


Amalgam —Dental amalgam, commonly known as the "silver" filling, has been used for over a century. It is an alloy composed of mercury, silver, tin, and copper. The mercury binds with the other metals to create a stable and safe material. Amalgam fillings are durable, cost-effective, but visually noticeable. They also involve more extensive tooth preparation (drilling) compared to other types of fillings.


Cast Gold —These fillings are made from gold alloy, which is a mixture of gold, copper, and other metals. Gold fillings are highly durable and well-tolerated by gum tissues. Gold fillings are known for their longevity and strength. They are resistant to wear and can last for a very long time. The main drawback is their cost, as gold fillings tend to be more expensive than other options. Additionally, like silver amalgam fillings, the noticeable gold color may be a cosmetic concern for some individuals.



Tooth-Colored Fillings

Composite —Composite fillings are a preferred option for individuals who prefer their fillings to be discreet. They are made of a mixture of plastic and glass, and they have the ability to bond with the remaining tooth structure. Although composite fillings are generally more expensive than amalgam fillings, the newer composite materials can offer comparable longevity. Additionally, composite fillings require less tooth preparation (drilling) compared to amalgam fillings.


Porcelain — High-tech dental ceramics are a modern option for fillings that provide strength, natural appearance, and resistance to staining. Unlike composites, they do not easily discolor over time. However, dental ceramics can be more costly than composites, as their fabrication may involve the use of a dental laboratory or specialized computer-generated technology. These ceramic fillings are highly aesthetic but can be slightly more brittle due to their higher glass content.


Glass Ionomer — Created from a mixture of acrylic and glass powders, translucent fillings are a cost-effective option that closely match the natural color of teeth. These fillings have the added benefit of releasing small amounts of fluoride, which aids in preventing tooth decay. However, it's important to note that they typically have a shorter lifespan compared to other restorative materials.




What to Expect After Getting a Filling

The effects of local anesthesia, which cause numbness, typically subside within a few hours. During this time, it is advisable to avoid consuming hot or cold liquids and to chew on the opposite side of your mouth from the newly filled tooth. Some sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures is normal in the initial weeks following a filling. If sensitivity or pain upon biting persists beyond that timeframe, it may indicate the need for an adjustment to the filling. It is important to maintain your regular brushing and flossing routine and visit the dental office for checkups and cleanings at least twice a year. Remember, tooth decay is preventable with proper oral hygiene and professional care, so you can strive to make your most recent cavity your last.


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