A dental filling is a restorative material used to fill in the hole or cavity of a tooth after decay has set in. It is used to restore the function, strength and shape of the tooth, and to prevent further degradation by closing any spaces where bacteria could enter.
The main purpose or desired result of a dental filling is to protect the tooth from extremes in temperature. If you have a cavity and if you eat or drink something that is very hot or very cold then that can affect exposed nerves in the mouth and gums and cause great pain. The filling will prevent the exposure of the nerve.
This is best done when the cavity is still small. If it is too small, if the cavity has not reached the dentin underneath the enamel, then a filling may not be required as a fluoride treatment may be able to remineralize the enamel of the tooth. If the cavity is too large then the integrity and strength of the tooth will be weaker and be more brittle and fragile. In such cases, other options–such as a crown–may be better.
Virtually everyone knows what is involved in getting a filling. 96% of Canadian adults have some history with cavities. Moreover, it is a very simple process. It is just a matter of preparing the tooth for the placement of the filling, and then placing the filling. However, to allay any lingering fears, and to let you more fully comprehend the procedure, we have laid out the procedure in simple steps below:
Although there is minimal pain with this procedure, if necessary local anesthetic can be administered. At our clinic, we also offer nitrous oxide to further alleviate any anxiety or pain and for you to relax. If you do have concerns about pain, discuss it with the dentist beforehand to find out what additional options are available.
The plaque and any bacteria will be removed from the cavity and any surrounding areas of the tooth by drilling, laser or by an abrasion instrument. The last is a relatively new technique in which a handheld device is used to spray a very small stream of aluminum oxide materials into the cavity. This stream blasts away the tissue without any heat or vibration.
Most patients experience virtually no pain from this. However, if the cavity is very deep or in the space between two teeth then a drill will most likely be used. The choice of the method is based primarily on the dentist’s knowledge and experience of various methods, but also on the location and extent of the cavity.
Once the plaque, bacteria and debris have been removed, the tooth will be further cleaned and polished. Preventative steps may be used if the cavity is near the root or if there is concern that liquids and/or tooth chips will enter your throat.
Then it is just a matter of injecting the material into the cavity. If an amalgam (the most common type of filling) is used, then an instrument called the amalgam carrier is used to put the amalgam into your tooth. The amalgam will then be pushed down into the tooth, making it tightly compacted and ensuring that there are no empty spaces. If a tooth-colored filling material is used then a curing light will be used which will harden each layer of this special material until it hardens.
After this multi-layering process is completed the material will be shaped, trimmed and polished. Regardless of the material used, the tooth and the filling will be cleaned and polished.
The entire process should take no more than an hour, after which you will be free to go. Your mouth may still feel numb, from the anesthesia, for a few hours. You may also be advised against taking hot or cold foods or drinks for a few hours. If you do experience sensitivity even after a few weeks then contact the dentist. If you feel pain in the tooth while you are biting or chewing then see him or her as soon as possible as the filling may need to be reshaped.
These are also called tooth-colored or white fillings. They are usually used on the front teeth. These are matched to the exact color of your teeth and are therefore virtually invisible. It preserves the maximum amount of tooth, and does not corrode. However, they are not as strong or durable as the amalgam fillings and may chip over time. They can also leak over time when they are bonded beneath the layer of the enamel.
This is also called dental amalgam and is, as has been mentioned above, the most common type. This is especially true for teeth (such as the molars) that have a lot of wear and tear. The modern version of this is one that contains mercury (50%), silver (about 22-32%), tin (about 14%), copper (about 8%) and smaller amounts of zinc.
This material is easily molded to the tooth so there is less need to remove more of the tooth to accommodate this filling. It is also very strong and durable, fastest to complete, and least expensive. It is also self-sealing, meaning that it fills in any microscopic fissures and holes.
Some people wear these proudly. There are a few advantages to them. They are durable and cant last 10 to 15 years–and usually longer–and they do not corrode. They are strong and can withstand strong chewing. They do tend to be beautiful, and are worn proudly by some.
Ceramics is another option of filling material. They can match the tooth color but are brittler than composite resin although they are more stain-resistant. They need a larger inlay area to be strong enough and hence not suitable to fill smaller areas.