Dental fillings are some of the most common dental procedures out there and the most common restoration technique in dentistry. Despite being so common, dental fillings are surprisingly complex and often misunderstood. So what exactly are fillings? What function do fillings perform–ie what do they do? And what are the different types of fillings? Let’s take a closer look and learn a bit more about dental fillings.
What Do Dental Fillings Do?
Dental fillings are a way to replace a portion of a tooth damaged by a cavity or other form of dental decay. Filling a tooth is a fairly straightforward procedure, generally done with minimal pain to the patient. First, the patient is anesthetized to numb the pain. Then the dentist uses a small, powerful dental drill to remove the damaged portion of the tooth and the infected parts of the pulp. This is generally done quickly, and the patient feels minimal discomfort. When the damage and debris are cleared away, the filling itself is implanted to fill the now-empty space and protect the tooth from further damage. Once the filing is in place, the tooth functions normally again.
Types of Dental Fillings
There are several different types of dental fillings, which are used depending on the situation at hand. They each have their strengths and weaknesses, so you may not get a choice as to which type of dental filling your dentist uses.
Gold used to be used for dental fillings, however, it’s fallen out of popularity as better options are available. These days it can be difficult to even find a dentist who uses gold fillings, so it’s not likely to be an option.
Silver amalgam fillings are historically the most common choice. They’re made of a silvery metallic material which is 50 percent silver, tin, zinc, and copper, and 50 percent mercury. They’re popular because they’re affordable, easy to install, and durable–a good amalgam filling can last 12 years or more. However, they have a couple of drawbacks. As they’re colored silver, they aren’t a good choice for a visible tooth for aesthetic reasons. Being metallic, they can expand or contract over time, which can damage the tooth or work the filling loose. Additionally, they contain mercury. While mercury is safe in small quantities, there are concerns about amalgam fillings and pregnant women or small children. Your dentist will explain this in detail should it become an issue, but it’s good to know ahead of time.
Composite fillings are an increasingly popular choice. While a bit pricier than amalgam fillings, they’re composed of a moldable composite material. This material is easy to shape, can be colored to match an existing tooth, and is relatively durable–though less so than amalgam fillings. Composite fillings are soft at first so your dentist can shape them and put them in place, but then they are cured and hardened via exposure to a special blue-white. They’re ready to go as soon as they’re cured, and function like regular enamel.
Glass ionomer fillings are another option, generally more commonly used for children. Made of glass and acrylic, they’re easy to install like composite fillings. They release fluoride, which helps protect young teeth. However, they only last a few years and are thus best for young teeth that are still growing and changing.
When to Get a Filling
Fillings are generally used to repair damaged or decayed teeth. The most common reason is a cavity, which arises when bacteria eat a hole through the enamel and into the tooth itself. Common symptoms of a cavity include pain while chewing or biting, sensitivity to heat or cold particularly hot or cold beverages, persistent toothache, bad breath, or pain in the jaw. If you’re experiencing any of these persistently, please get in touch and make an appointment today. We’ll conduct an exam, see what’s wrong, and tell you what your options are.