Dental fillings can restore teeth that have been damaged by cavities or injury. Untreated cavities, fractures, and cracks in the teeth can cause serious oral health problems, including infection, periodontal (gum) disease, and loose teeth. If caught early, most cavities, cracks, and fractures can be completely repaired with dental fillings.
Cracks, fractures, and large cavities are usually obvious and painful. Schedule an appointment with your dentist if you experience any of the following symptoms :
- Toothache that lasts for more than a few minutes.
- Sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures.
- Sensitivity to sweet foods and beverages.
- Visible discoloration or holes on the surface of your teeth.
- >Pain when chewing or biting down.
However, it’s important to realize that small to medium sized cavities might not cause pain or discomfort right away. Your dentist can use x-rays, dyes, and specialized instruments to identify minor damage and decay. Regular visits will allow your dentist to find and address these small issues before they become serious problems.
In the past, dentists used precious metals to repair cavities and damaged teeth. While patients can still choose gold or silver fillings, there are several new options available. The newest filling materials include tooth-colored resin composites, porcelain, and glass ionomer. Here’s an overview of the different types :
- Silver Amalgam. This type of filling has been used for more than 150 years and is typically the most affordable option for patients. Made of a combination of silver, copper, tin, and mercury, dental amalgams are a strong and durable choice.
- Gold. This type of filling is more expensive than silver, but it offers outstanding longevity. A gold filling is almost as hard as tooth enamel, which makes it less likely to fracture under stress.
- Composite Resin. This type of filling is a tooth-colored mixture of plastic and glass. It’s a popular choice among patients because the color matches the surrounding tooth. Composite resin fillings are more aesthetically pleasing than silver amalgams, but tend to be more expensive and less durable.
- Porcelain. This type of filling is made from ceramic. Like composite resin, porcelain fillings are blended to match the color of the surrounding tooth. Porcelain fillings offer superior stain resistance and durability compared to composite resin, but they tend to be more expensive.
- Glass Ionomer. This type of filling is made from acrylic and glass. Glass ionomer fillings are unique because they release small amounts of fluoride, which can help prevent future cavities. Since glass ionomer fillings are not very durable, they are generally only used in areas that don’t experience significant wear and tear.
Most fillings can be completed in one visit. At the beginning of your dental filling appointment, your dentist will numb the area using a local anesthetic. Before placing the filling, your dentist must remove the decayed and damaged portion of your tooth using a high-speed drill. Next, your dentist will apply a fluoride solution that prevents future cavities. Depending on the location and type of repair, your dentist may dispense the filling into the prepared space, or transfer it to the tooth using a specialized instrument. After the material is in place, your dentist will mold, smooth, and polish the filling, so that it fits comfortably in your mouth. Porcelain fillings typically require two visits. During the first visit, your dentist will remove the damaged area and take an impression of the tooth. The mold is sent to a dental lab that makes custom porcelain fillings. When you come back for your second visit, your dentist will bond the filling to your tooth.
The local anesthetic will wear off in 2-6 hours. It’s generally a good idea to avoid eating any hard or sticky foods during the first 24 hours. The repaired tooth may be sensitive to hot and cold foods for up to 3 weeks. If you experience pain or sensitivity for more than a few weeks, contact your dentist. Be sure to follow the specific aftercare instructions provided by your dentist. By maintaining a good oral health regimen that includes proper home care and regular professional cleanings, you can preserve the integrity of the filling and prevent future oral health problems.