A filling is a way to restore a tooth damaged by decay back to its normal function and shape. When a dentist gives you a filling, he or she first removes the decayed tooth material, cleans the affected area, and then fills the cleaned out cavity with a filling material.
By closing off spaces where bacteria can enter, a filling also helps prevent further decay. Materials used for fillings include gold, porcelain, a composite resin (tooth-colored fillings), and an amalgam (an alloy of mercury, silver, copper, tin and sometimes zinc).
No one type of filling is best for everyone. What's right for you will be determined by the extent of the repair, whether you have allergies to certain materials, where in your mouth the filling is needed, and the cost.
Considerations for different materials include:
- Gold fillings - are made to order in a laboratory and then cemented into place. Gold inlays are well tolerated by gum tissues, and may last more than 20 years. For these reasons, many authorities consider gold the best filling material. However, it is often the most expensive choice and requires multiple visits.
- Amalgam (silver) fillings - are resistant to wear and relatively inexpensive. However, due to their dark color, they are more noticeable than porcelain or composite restorations and are not usually used in very visible areas, such as front teeth.
- Composite (plastic) - Also known as White Fillings, resins are matched to be the same color as your teeth and therefore used where a natural appearance is desired. The ingredients are mixed and placed directly into the cavity, where they harden. Composites may not be the ideal material for large fillings as they may chip or wear over time. They can also become stained from coffee, tea or tobacco, and do not last as long as other types of fillings - generally from three to 10 years.
- Porcelain fillings - are called inlays or onlays and are produced to order in a lab and then bonded to the tooth. They can be matched to the color of the tooth and resist staining. A porcelain restoration generally covers most of the tooth. Their cost is similar to gold.
If decay or a fracture has damaged a large portion of the tooth, a crown, or cap, may be recommended. Decay that has reached the nerve may be treated in two ways: through root canal therapy (in which nerve damaged nerve is removed) or through a procedure called pulp capping (which attempts to keep the nerve alive).
Class 1 Restoration
When it's time to fill your cavity, your dentist will first numb the area using local anesthetic. If you're very nervous about the procedure, talk to your dentist about options for managing your concerns to help you relax.
Using A Special Dentist Drill
Once the area surrounding the cavity is numb, your dentist will remove the decayed tissue using a special dental drill, an air abrasion instrument, or even a laser. The end result is the same-the removal of decayed tissue. The instrument used depends in part on where the tooth decay is and how severe it is. Air abrasion is a relatively new technique in dentistry that involves using a handheld device to spray a tiny stream of aluminum oxide particles onto the area of the tooth to be removed. The particles hit the tooth and blast away the desired amount of tissue without any heat or vibration. Most patients report that the procedure is essentially painless. But if you have a very deep cavity or it is in a tricky spot between the teeth, your dentist will likely use the dental drill.
Once the decayed material is removed, your dentist will clean out any debris and place the filling in the cavity. If the cavity is deep, your dentist may place a liner over the cavity before placing the filling to protect the tooth nerve.
Cleaning And Polishing
When the filling is in place, your dentist will clean and polish it and send you on your way. Your lips and gum area may be numb for the first few hours, so chew food carefully and avoid chewing on the part of your mouth where the filling is located. Some tooth sensitivity is normal during the first few weeks after a filling. You might also want to avoid triggers, such as extremely hot or cold foods. If the sensitivity persists after a few weeks, contact your dentist. And if you feel pain in the tooth when biting, see your dentist as soon as possible-you may need to have the filling reshaped.
Frequently Asked Questions
If your filling falls out, make an appointment with your dentist to have it replaced as soon as possible.
Fillings last for several years, but eventually they will need to be replaced. A filling may fall out as a result of wear and tear, excessive biting pressure over time, or because of tooth decay in the surrounding area. If your filling falls out, your dentist will clean the cavity and put a new filling in to replace the old one, but only if there is enough of your original tooth left to support it. If your old filling was made of amalgam (silver), you may wish to have it replaced with a composite (tooth-coloured) filling so that it looks more natural.
It’s important to visit your dentist regularly, so that any problems with your fillings can be picked up early on.
No – before you have a filling, your dentist will usually given you an injection of local anaesthetic to block pain from the area. You may be able to feel the instruments in your mouth and some pressure, but you won't feel any pain.
If you’re particularly nervous about having a local anaesthetic injection, let your dentist know. He or she may be able to apply an anaesthetic gel to the area of your mouth that will be injected. This will numb your gum so that you won’t be able to feel the needle.
After the procedure, it may take several hours before the feeling comes back into the treated area of your mouth. Take special care not to bump or knock your mouth or bite your tongue, particularly when you're speaking, drinking or eating. Don’t eat or drink anything too hot while your mouth is still numb. You may damage your lip or mouth without realising as you will have limited sensation in the area.
No, the whitening treatment will only affect your natural teeth and not your fillings.
The bleach used in whitening treatments only whitens your natural teeth. It won’t whiten any fillings, crowns or veneers you have. However, a lighter shade of composite (tooth-coloured) filling can be placed over your existing filling, or a new composite filling can be put in to match your whitened teeth, so they don't look a different colour. Before starting your whitening treatment, ask your dentist whether any fillings will need to be replaced after the procedure.
White fillings have always been considered less long lasting than silver amalgam fillings. But there are now new materials available with properties comparable to silver amalgam, and these are proving to be very successful. The life expectancy of a white filling can depend greatly on where it is in your mouth and how heavily your teeth come together when you bite. Your dentist can advise you on the life expectancy of your fillings.