Almost all of us, at some time in our lives, will develop a cavity. In the majority of cases, cavities can be easily treated by removing the decay and filling in the tooth area with a durable filling material. Fortunately, because of recent advances, dental fillings no longer have to be unsightly in an otherwise healthy-looking mouth.
Although dental fillings have been used to restore teeth for centuries, filling materials have dramatically improved in recent years thanks to some significant technological advancements. Silver amalgam was once the most common dental filling material. However, there are now several preferred options for tooth restoration that are both durable and far less noticeable. With options such as tooth colored composite filling materials and cementable resins and porcelains, it is now virtually impossible to see any difference between a tooth with a filling and one without.
Unlike metal dental fillings, composite resin dental fillings look like natural tooth. They are also strong, long-lasting, and create a more natural looking smile. Originally developed as an alternative to traditional metal amalgam, composite resin dental fillings have become increasingly popular for a number of reasons. First, because the filling material is tooth-colored, they look natural. The material also hardens instantaneously, so there is no need to delay chewing. Many dentists prefer to work with composite resin over amalgam because less tooth structure typically needs to be removed when preparing a filling.
Finally, with experts continuing to investigate the possibility that the mercury in amalgam fillings could be absorbed into the body and contribute to a host of diseases, composite resin is a safe alternative that holds no risk for toxicity. The durability of composite fillings is typically at least five years, and in many cases, comparable to the 10 to 15 years that one would find with amalgam.
The Filling Procedure
If you have a cavity that requires a filling, you will be first given a local anesthetic to numb the area of the tooth. The decayed portion of the tooth will then be removed using a drill, micro air abrasion, or a dental laser, using care not to expose the nerve.
Next, a material is applied to the tooth to roughen the enamel of the tooth to allow the filling material to bond. This layer will harden quickly and is cured with a bright light. Following this, the composite resin filling material will be applied. By adding thin layers, the dentist will carefully build up the tooth hardening each layer before adding another.
After the filling is complete, articulating paper is used to determine that your bite is correct. If it is not, the height of the filling can be corrected. Finally, your tooth will be polished. With a composite resin filling, you will be able to chew as normal on the filling immediately after it is filled.
Of course, there are times when a filling is not enough to treat a tooth. These instances include when a tooth has a considerable amount of decay or in a tooth that already has a root canal that has weakened the condition of the tooth. Sometimes, the enamel of a tooth can be so thin that there is a risk that it may fracture if drilled.
In these cases, a crown may be required. Unlike a dental filling that fills just a portion of the tooth, a crown covers the entire visible surface of it. This increases the stability, strength, and durability of the tooth.
Of course, the best way to prevent the need for dental fillings is to properly care for your teeth and gums with brushing and flossing, and to visit your dentist on a regular basis.