Chances are, at some point in your life, a dentist will tell you, "You need a filling!" Millions of people undergo this common dental procedure. Indeed, most people need at least one filling during their lifetime. But what exactly does getting a tooth filling involve? Please continue reading to learn more about dental fillings and why they are important for your dental health.
What are dental fillings?
Tooth fillings or dental fillings are a treatment for teeth damaged by decay. They restore teeth back to normal shape and function and prevent further decay. Dentists use tooth fillings to treat cavities. They remove the decayed part of the tooth and "fill" the empty portion (from where the decayed material was removed) with dental filling materials. Dental fillings are also used to repair broken, cracked, or worn down teeth.
What do tooth fillings do?
A cavity is a hole that forms when bacteria destroy a part of the tooth. In fact, the cavity contains some of the bacteria that created the hole and lead to tooth decay. This can cause tooth sensitivity and other problems because when the structure of the tooth is destroyed by the bacteria, it exposes the nerves. If the decay is left untreated, it can lead to worsening infection. In advanced cases, the infection can spread via the bloodstream. For this reason, tooth decay needs to be treated with dental fillings.
Dentists want to treat cavities as soon as possible to prevent progression of the tooth decay. Once the decayed material is removed, a gap or hole is left behind. This can be problematic if it is left empty. Filling materials are therefore placed in the hole to plug it and prevent further problems.
The fillings prevent bacteria or plaque from collecting inside the tooth. They also strengthen the tooth and reduce the risk of chipping or cracking. That's why dentists strongly advise that you have any cavities taken care of as soon as they are identified. It helps prevent further damage and ensures a sound tooth structure remains intact.
Is tooth filling good or bad?
Many people wonder - Is it good to have fillings in your teeth? The answer is yes. Dental fillings help to prevent further decay and allow proper tooth functioning. More than 90% of adults have a cavity. Getting it treated is the sensible thing to do.
What are the different types of dental filling materials?
There are several dental filling materials available, including gold, silver amalgam, porcelain, tooth-colored composites, plastic, composite resin fillings, and glass ionomer. The material used for your dental fillings will depend on the extent of tooth decay, the cost of the filling, your insurance coverage, and your dentist's recommendations on the type of filling best suited for you. The pros and cons of some of the commonly used dental filling types are described below.
Cast Gold Fillings
They are durable (last 10-15 years), strong, and considered more aesthetically pleasing than silver amalgam fillings.
The cost of gold cast fillings can be up to 10 times more than silver amalgam filings. They require two office visits. If gold fillings are placed next to silver amalgam fillings, they can cause a galvanic shock (shar pain) due to an electric current between the metals and saliva (this is rare). Many patients dislike the appearance of metal fillings and prefer dental fillings that match the natural color of the tooth.
Silver Amalgam Fillings
They are durable and strong, lasting for at least 10-15 years, which is longer than tooth colored fillings. They are good at withstand chewing forces. Also, they are less expensive compared to composite fillings.
Many patients do not like metal fillings because they do not match the natural color of the teeth. Another disadvantage of silver fillings is that some healthy portion of the tooth needs to be removed to make space for the amalgam filling. Also, they can cause a grayish discoloration of the surrounding tooth. Amalgam materials are more prone to cracking or fractures due to temperature changes upon contact with hot or cold liquids. A small number of people are allergic to these materials.
Tooth-Colored Composite Fillings
The offer the best aesthetics by closely matching the color of existing natural teeth. This makes composites particularly suitable for dental fillings in the front teeth. Also, composites bond well to the tooth structure. They are versatile (can be used to repair cracked or broken teeth, for example, due to tooth grinding). Also, they require removal of less healthy tooth than amalgam fillings.
This type of filling material is not as durable, lasting around 5 years. Also, composite material may not be as resistant to chewing forces, especially if used to fill large cavities. Composite fillings take longer to place and may require additional dentist visits if used for inlays or onlays. Sometimes, the filling material can chip off. Lastly, composite fillings can be up to two times more expensive than amalgam fillings.
Porcelain fillings are more stain resistant than composite resin material. This material usually lasts 15 years or more.
They can cost as much as gold fillings.
This is a special type of filling material made of acrylic. It is used to fill below the gum line and in young children. The material releases fluoride to protect from further tooth decay. Costs are comparable to composite resin.
This filling material is not as strong as composite resin. It is more prone to be worn down or fractured. It usually lasts around 5 years, although some newer ones may last longer.
What are indirect fillings?
A special type of composite or tooth-colored fillings are called indirect fillings. They are made in a dental laboratory. Indirect fillings are useful when there is not enough tooth structure to support a dental filling, yet the tooth is not damaged enough to require a crown.
You need two visits to have them put in. At the first visit, the decay is removed and an impression is taken and sent to the lab. A temporary filling is placed in the meantime. At the second visit, the temporary filling is removed and the indirect filling is applied and cemented into place.
Indirect fillings are of two types - inlays and onlays. Inlays are fillings between the cusps or bumps on the chewing surface. Onlays cover more than one cusp and are more extensive (they are also called partial crowns). Onlays protect a weak tooth by covering the chewing surface and distributing chewing forces.
Indirect fillings (inlays and onlays) can last up to 30 years, which is much longer than traditional fillings. They can be made of gold, porcelain, silver amalgam, or tooth-colored composite resin.
What is a temporary filling?
Temporary fillings are put in place when the tooth structure repair requires more than one appointment. For example, before gold fillings or indirect fillings are placed. They are also used after a root canal treatment and for emergency dental treatment. Temporary fillings can help irritated nerves calm down. These dental fillings don't last more than a month. It is important to go back to the dental office to have a temporary filling replaced with a permanent one. Failure to do so can lead to infection or other complications.
Are amalgam-type fillings safe?
Amalgam type fillings contain mercury which can be released at low levels in vapor form and be inhaled into the lungs. High levels of mercury exposure is associated with many health problems. However, studies have not found any link between fillings made with amalgam materials and health problems. The U.S. FDA considers them safe for adults and children over the age of 6. Numerous public health agencies including the American Dental Association (ADA) have also said there is no proof that amalgam dental fillings cause conditions like autism, multiple sclerosis, or Alzheimer's disease.
What to expect while getting a tooth filled?
Your dentist will first use a local anesthetic to numb the area around the tooth being filled. Next, they will use a drill or laser to remove the decayed material. Once all the decay has been removed, they will prepare the empty hole for filling by cleaning out any debris. If the decay extends near the root of the tooth, they may use a liner to protect the tooth's nerve. After putting the filling in, your dentist will polish it. Additional steps are needed in the decay removal process when you are getting tooth-colored fillings to match existing teeth. They are applied in layers. A special light is used to cure or harden each layer. Once this process is complete, your dentist will shape the composite material by trimming off any excess and then polish it.
Do fillings hurt?
You might be wondering - Is it painful to have cavity filling? The answer is no. Your dentist will numb the area with lidocaine local anesthetic. You should not feel anything more than a slight sting.
How long do dental fillings last?
On average, you need to replace fillings every 7-10 years. Tooth colored material or composite fillings wear down faster. Amalgam material is durable and affordable, lasting for 15 years on average.
Does dental insurance cover the cost of fillings?
In general, dental insurance plans cover the cost of tooth colored composite fillings, sometimes even a silver filling or amalgam restorations. You will likely be responsible for any difference if you get more expensive treatment for your decayed teeth. You will also pay out of pocket for any treatment for cosmetic concerns.
How do you know a filling needs to be replaced?
You should get your cavity filling replaced if the filling is cracked. This means the filling does not fit tightly against the tooth. It can allow debris and saliva to seep down into the tooth, which can lead to decay. A dentist may take an X-ray to evaluate the situation. You may also need to have your cavity filling replaced if your tooth hurts, you have sensitivity to hot or cold beverages, your filling has changed color, or your filling has fallen out.
How to care for teeth with fillings?
To maintain your cavity filling, follow a good oral hygiene regimen. This includes daily brushing and flossing and visiting your dentist regularly for professional cleanings.
Potential Problems with Dental Fillings
Some of the problems that can occur after getting a cavity filling include:
Tooth pain and sensitivity
This typically resolves in a few weeks. Treatment with pain medication is not usually necessary. Contact your dentist if the pain or sensitivity is severe or persists beyond 2-4 weeks. They may prescribe a desensitizing toothpaste or recommend a root canal procedure. The filling may need to be reshaped if it is causing continued pain. This can sometimes occur due to two different materials, such as amalgam silver in a newly filled tooth and a gold crown in an adjacent tooth. This pain usually resolves on its own.
Very rarely, a person can have an allergic reaction to silver fillings. Mercury or one of the other metals in an amalgam restoration triggers the allergy, causing rashes and itching. If this occurs, you may need to have amalgam fillings removed and another restorative material used.
The pressure from grinding, chewing, and clenching of the teeth can cause tooth fillings to chip, crack, or wear down over time. Be sure to go for regular dental checkups so that your dentist can identify any weaknesses in your tooth fillings. A weak seal between the filler material and the tooth enamel can cause food particles to become trapped under the filling and surrounding tooth structure, causing decay. This can sometimes happen due to improper cavity preparation. If left untreated, it can progress to infection of the dental pulp and a tooth abscess. If you do not have enough tooth structure remaining to support a replacement filling, your dentist may replace the filling with a dental crown.
Finding a dentist for tooth fillings
Now that you know the importance of a cavity filling and also know that tooth colored fillings exist, there is no reason to delay dental treatment. The MeTime app makes it easy to connect with leading dentists in your area. You can chat with experts, share photos, do a video consultation, and get quotes. You can even pay securely and book your dental appointment through the app. Download MeTime today and make sure all the decay has been removed from your mouth.