Dental decay, if left untreated, can become a serious threat to your general dental hygiene and cause a lot of pain and discomfort. Luckily, tooth fillings can be used to help solve your discomfort and damage. Read our guide to find out more about what fillings are, how they work and whether you might need one.
What Is a Tooth Filling?
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, they first remove the decayed tooth material, clean the affected area, and then fill 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-coloured fillings), and an amalgam (an alloy of mercury, silver, copper, tin and sometimes zinc).
If the damage is bad enough, you may need a root canal and a cap, but that is a different dental procedure. In all cases, it’s best to get regular dental exams so the decay never gets out of control.
Signs You Need a Filling
If you’re concerned that you may need a filling, there are generally some symptoms you can look out for. The general noticeable signs that you might need a filling include:
- Dark spots on the teeth
- A visible hole in your teeth or a hole you can feel in your teeth
- Food that always gets stuck in or between certain teeth
- When your floss tears/rips in certain spots
- A rough, chipped or broken tooth
- A broken or lost filling
- Tooth sensitivity
- Damage to a previous filling
- Throbbing or sharp pain in your mouth or tooth
If you have or are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is advised to get it checked out as soon as possible by a dentist. This way, you can avoid further tooth decay and future problems such as infections.
What Are the Types of Filling Available?
There are also several types of fillings available, depending on your personal and financial situation. Below, we have compiled a short list of some fillings and their characteristics.
These are made to order and then cemented into place. Gold inlays are tolerated well by gum tissues and could last more than 20 years. It’s often the most expensive filling choice and requires multiple visits
Amalgam (Silver) Fillings
These fillings are resistant to wear and relatively inexpensive, but due to their dark colour, generally more noticeable than porcelain or composite restorations and are not usually used in very visible areas, such as front teeth
Composite (Plastic) Resins
These types of fillings are matched to be the same colour as your teeth and therefore used where a natural appearance is desired. The ingredients are mixed and placed directly into the cavity, where they then harden. Composites may not be the ideal material for large fillings as they may chip or wear over time and can also become stained from coffee, tea or tobacco & do not last as long as other types of fillings - generally with a lifetime of 3 to 10 years.
Also called inlays or on-lays, porcelain fillings are produced to order in a lab and bonded to the tooth. They can be matched to the colour of the tooth and resist staining. A porcelain restoration generally covers most of the tooth, with a cost similar to gold fillings.
Additionally, 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: either through root canal therapy (in which the damaged nerve is removed) or through a procedure called pulp capping (which attempts to keep the nerve alive).
How Does Getting a Filling Work?
When you get a filling, you might first be given local anaesthesia to numb the area. Next, your dentist will likely use a drill to cut through the enamel and remove decay.
Once the drill reaches the second layer of the tooth, the dentist uses a lower-speed drill, because dentin is softer than enamel. Your dentist will shape the space to prepare it for the filling. They might also put in a base or a liner to protect the tooth's pulp (where the nerves are).
Certain types of composite fillings get hardened by a special light. With these fillings, your dentist will layer the material, stopping several times to shine a bright light on the resin to cure (harden) the material and make it strong.
Finally, your dentist will finish and polish the filled tooth. Occasionally, sharp edges might remain after your appointment, however these can easily be fixed by your dentist during a follow-up visit.
Why Do People Get Fillings?
Dental decay dissolves your teeth, creating cavities. If left untreated, it can lead to serious dental hygiene problems, infections and may even require surgery to fix. Tooth fillings are used to treat dental decay in most common cases, but your dentist will be able to tell you if you need fillings or not.