Fillings: The Basics

 

No one goes to the dentist in the hope of needing a filling. Yet needing a filling is one of the two possible outcomes of a dental exam. The other is hearing that you are all good (although you should floss more) and they will see you in 6 months.   fillings - paid - shutterstock 50804752

Getting a filling for a cavity puts you among the majority of people in the world today. More than 90 percent of all people have had a cavity in their lifetime. Your dentist can deal with the cavity fairly quickly and easily by putting in a filling.

These are the basic facts you should know about fillings.

What is a Filling?

A filling is one of several materials used to fill a hole (cavity) in your tooth. Cavities can be caused by tooth decay, cracking caused by grinding your teeth, or some other trauma like chewing ice or hard candy, chewing on some object, or damage to a tooth in an injury or accident.

Filling the hole stops or slows the growth of the cavity so that the tooth can perform its function again. Left untreated, the bacteria in a cavity or in your mouth can grow and endanger the rest of the tooth. Once that bacteria reaches the inside (root) of the tooth, restoring the tooth will require a more involved dental procedure called a root canal.

What Materials are Used in Fillings?

Today, dentists use one of five materials to fill teeth. Each of the materials has plusses and minuses. Your dentist will typically recommend one or two options based on a number of factors. The five materials are:

  1. Cast Gold – These fillings are very strong and durable (ideal for molars). Filling a tooth with gold is a little more complicated than some of the other materials. Gold fillings are also more expensive than some other options.
  2. Silver (also called Amalgam) – These fillings are strong and durable. They are less expensive than gold but are visible in your mouth. Silver fillings can also contribute to cracks and fractures in the tooth in the future.
  3. Tooth-colored composites – These fillings can be almost invisible in your mouth. They bond to your tooth for extra stability. They are more expensive than amalgam but less than gold. They tend to last one-third to one-half the time of gold or silver fillings.
  4. Ceramic – These fillings are very strong and durable. They are resistant to staining. The cost of ceramic fillings is almost as high as gold.
  5. Glass ionomer – This is the preferred filling material for young children and fillings below the gum line. The material releases fluoride to prevent further tooth decay. However, it is a weaker material than some of the others, making it prone to wear and damage.

What Happens when you get a Filling?

Sometimes the first step in filling a tooth is when your dentist gives you a local anesthetic to numb the area around the tooth. Next, the dentist will use a drill or laser to remove the decayed part of the tooth. Then, once the decay is removed, the dentist will clean the area around the cavity and prepare it for the filling.

When the area is prepared, the dentist will put in the filling. Then she will finish and polish the tooth. The goal is to make the surface of the tooth smooth, to ensure that the filling sits properly in the tooth (and does not interfere with chewing and biting). If the filling affects your bite or chewing ability, it can cause discomfort, pain, and a headache.

 

We all hope that our dental exam will end with the dentist telling us that all is well. Sometimes the dentist will find decay and tell us we have a cavity. Having the cavity cleaned and filled will put you back on the road to good oral health. Having a tooth filled is not painful or frightening. With your knowledge of what to expect, you can relax and let your dentist fix your tooth and prevent future decay.