Caring for the teeth is essential to preventing oral health problems, including dental cavities. Cavity prevention entails flossing, brushing, and regular professional dental cleaning and examination. But once a cavity develops, it requires treatment. If left untreated, a dental cavity only enlarges and grows deep into the tooth, causing severe problems.
At Washington Dental in Carson, we can fix your cavities, restoring your dental health with dental fillings. If you wish to undergo treatment, do not hesitate to contact us for a consultation.
What Are Dental Fillings?
Dental fillings, also called tooth fillings, are dental restorations used for treating dental caries, more popularly known as dental cavities or tooth decay. Dental cavities are small holes on the teeth' surface resulting from acidic waste products from mouth bacteria that feed on starch and sugars. They are the reason you should minimize starchy and sugary food intake and watch your diet.
Dental fillings stop tooth decay from progressing. Without proper treatment, cavities enlarge and dig deeper into the tooth. The decay can result in infections and possible tooth loss. To treat dental cavities using fillings, the dental professional will extract the decayed part of the tooth and fill it with a filling material.
Dental fillings do not only treat cavities. They can also be used to fix other dental problems like fractured, broken, cracked, chipped, or damaged teeth and teeth worn down due to abuse or misuse, like tooth grinding, nail-biting, eating hard foods, and bruxism. Tooth fillings will correct your dental problem so the tooth functions and works at its best.
If fillings are insufficient to fix your dental problem, your dentist can recommend putting on veneers, bridges, or crowns.
Types of Dental Fillings
Dental fillings come in various types based on the material used to make them. They are amalgam, gold, composite resin, and porcelain fillings. There is also a type of dental filling containing glass particles called glass ionomer. This tooth filling is used and applied similarly to the composite resin tooth filling.
Your dental professional will ultimately determine what kind of filling best suits your specific needs or dental problem based on how severe the decay is, what kind of tooth requires filling (molars, canines, or incisors), whether or not the tooth can be seen whenever you smile, the cost and type of filling material that is ideal for you, how extensive your insurance coverage is, and the kind of dental issue that requires correcting (cavities, broken teeth, or worn down teeth).
Just remember, fillings cannot save teeth with cavities that are so large that almost no dentin or enamel is left. Also, every filling material has disadvantages and advantages you should consider when choosing.
Composite Resin Fillings
Composite dental fillings are made from resin and plastic materials. The filling is placed in the tooth when it is still in liquid form, then reshaped and hardened using a dental curing light. It is a prevalent option as it may be custom-made to match your tooth color, so it does not appear conspicuous like amalgam fillings. It is mainly used on visible tooth parts, like canines, incisors, and the first few molars. Additionally, these fillings can chemically bond to the tooth structure, providing more grip support than amalgam or gold filings.
Composite fillings are also versatile—they are suitable for repairing broken, chipped, or worn teeth and filling a decayed tooth or teeth with cavities.
Also, the filling prevents extensive tooth destruction, as less dentin and enamel must be extracted than in gold or amalgam fillings. When preparing for these fillings, the decayed part of the tooth requires removal.
As far as disadvantages are concerned, composite resins wear out much faster than other types. That means they are not durable. They can last five to ten years, after which you may need a replacement. These fillings also break easily under chewing and biting pressure. If you often eat hard foods or bite your nails, these fillings will likely break down.
Bigger cavities often make this dental filling pop out, incapable of gripping or bonding with the tooth. Regarding the length of the dental visit or chair time, it generally lasts twenty minutes longer than amalgam filling placement because they are applied layer after layer, with every layer hardened with a dental curing light. Composite fillings are more fragile than others, but they are more versatile and aesthetic than others.
Also, you may need additional dental visits if you place onlays or inlays instead. These fillings are also best utilized with most of the tooth intact, as they can chip apart based on the tooth's location. The fillings can also chip the tooth itself. Composite fillings can also be more expensive than amalgam fillings.
As the name suggests, gold fillings are made of gold but contain other metals. Typical gold fillings generally comprise 75 percent gold, with the remaining 25 percent comprising silver, palladium, and other metals.
These fillings have several advantages. They are sturdy enough to withstand chewing forces and are non-corrosive. They are also highly durable compared to other types, as they can last for over fifteen years with proper care.
However, gold dental fillings are highly costly and not very prevalent. Another drawback is that the procedure to fit gold fillings correctly takes more than a single visit to the dentist. Also, galvanic shock may happen in rare cases if gold fillings are placed next to amalgam tooth fillings.
Galvanic shock occurs when you experience sharp pain in your teeth because of the proximity of the gold and amalgam fillings. An electric current is produced when gold and amalgam materials come into contact with saliva.
Lastly, some patients view gold dental fillings as too conspicuous and unattractive, preferring fillings that match the tooth color.
Amalgam fillings are made up of silver, tin, copper, tin, zinc, and mercury alloys. These fillings are strong and almost as long-lasting as gold. They can last ten to twelve years or more. They often outlast composite resin fillings.
The fillings are also less costly than gold and composite resin fillings. They are probably the cheapest available option. These fillings are preferably utilized for the rear teeth instead of the front teeth because of their durability and strength. Dentists find using them easy as they are malleable.
On the downside, most people do not like the aesthetics of silver fillings and how they do not blend in with the natural color of their teeth. That is why they are usually used to fill the molars, or back teeth, which are not visible whenever you smile.
Also, to insert these fillings, more tooth material must be extracted to enable the amalgam to grip perfectly on the crack or hole of the tooth. This could result in the extraction of some of the tooth's healthy structure. The reason for removing a lot of tooth material is that amalgam fillings are held in position by the cavity’s shape—they do not stick to the tooth surface as other tooth fillings do.
Amalgam dental fillings can cause the surrounding teeth to discolor, giving them an ashen or grayish hue. The amalgam material also responds to temperature changes, causing a wider extent of expansion and contraction that further damages the tooth, resulting in a higher incidence of tooth cracking or fracturing. The expansions and contractions may also result in gaps between the tooth and filling, letting in bacteria and food and causing new dental cavities.
Regardless of the controversy involving the mercury in the amalgam fillings, the fillings have been declared safe for use. The mercury is locked in the fillings during the hardening process, making them safe for the body.
Glass Ionomer Dental Fillings
Glass ionomer fillings are made of a mixture of acrylic and glass. They are often used with children whose teeth are still forming. They still require drilling for proper application. Glass ionomer fillings release fluoride into the tooth to safeguard it from further decay.
Nevertheless, these fillings only last a few years since they are weaker than composite resin fillings and tend to wear out, fracture, or crack. They should only be inserted in the right areas and used in the correct situation for ideal results. Regular glass ionomer fillings are less natural-looking than composite resin.
Ceramic/ Porcelain Fillings
They are made from porcelain material, making them cosmetically appealing and durable, lasting up to fifteen years. They are tooth-colored and resist abrasion and stains better than composite fillings.
The disadvantage of ceramic fillings over composite resin is that they are more brittle and, thus, must be used in bigger cavities to avert breakage. Your dental professional can enlarge the area to create room for the additional bulk. These fillings are also more expensive than other types.
As far as treating cavities is concerned, the dental professional will first extract the decayed part of the tooth before placing dental fillings because without removing the decay, it will be challenging for the filling to stick on the surface, and more decay could happen on the already compromised dentin or enamel part, leading to the dislodgement of the tooth filling.
The Dental Filling Procedure
The procedure to place dental fillings is generally straightforward. The steps are as follows:
- Dental examination: First, your dental professional will examine your teeth and, using dental instruments, check for decay. They can take X-ray images of the affected tooth or teeth to measure the degree of the cavities.
- Anesthesia: The dental professional will use a local anesthetic to numb the affected tooth area. They will inject the anesthetic into the gum to make the region around the affected tooth insensitive to pain as you undergo filling. You might not require anesthesia if the filling is only on the tooth surface.
- Drilling: The dental professional will extract the decayed tooth material using a dental drill. Instead of using a drill, the dentist may use an air abrasion or laser instrument, although these tools are less prevalent. The kind of instrument used to prepare the affected tooth for filling depends on the investment in the specific equipment, the expertise or training of the individual dentist, and the degree of comfort in utilizing a given piece of dental equipment. The location and extent of the cavity can also impact these decisions.
- Testing and probing: Afterward, the dentist will probe or test the damaged tooth or teeth to know whether they have removed all the decayed matter. If so, they will prepare to fill the hole left after the removal of decayed matter.
- Cleanup: The initial step of the dentist's preparation is to clean and sterilize the hole for the dental filling. Cleaning is done to remove the remaining debris and bacteria from the damaged tooth's cracks or cavities. The dentist will ask you to spit out to stop bacteria from tainting your blood or digestive system.
- Liner: Where the cavity has spread to the tooth root, the tooth nerve should be safeguarded to stop inflammation. In these instances, the dental professional may put in a glass ionomer or composite resin liner that protects the nerve from contact. If the nerve has been inflamed, the dentist may conduct root canal therapy and shave the tooth off to place a dental crown.
- Filling: Once the dentist has appropriately cleaned and roughed up the gap, they will put the filling into the empty hole. Sometimes, the dentist may shine a light on the dental filling to harden it faster, but this depends on what material the filling is made of. They will make you bite down on sandpaper to grind out the filling, and then polish and finish it after it has been placed in your tooth.
If the filling is composite resin, the dentist will perform additional steps to complete the procedure. These steps include the following:
- Multilayered tooth filling application: After removing the decayed tooth material and cleaning the area, the dentist will apply the tooth-colored material in layers. Doing this ensures the filling will not detach or fall out easily.
- Curing with special light: After every layer, the dentist will shine laser light onto the filling to cure or harden the material. So it is application, then shining the light, then application, and then shining the light over and over again.
- Shaping the dental filling: Once the dentist has applied the multilayered tooth filling, they will use their equipment to manipulate it to the appropriate shape.
- Trimming off excessive material: The dentist might use sandpaper or a drill to remove excessive matter. They will ask you to bite down and establish whether or not your bite has changed before shaving off the filling.
- Polishing and finishing: The last step entails polishing the filling to the extent that it looks like natural tooth enamel and is invisible when everything is considered.
Once the anesthesia has worn off, your tooth might feel slightly tender or sore, but you may not experience any pain. You could limit cold or hot beverages and foods for one or two days and eat normally afterward.
How Long Will The Procedure Take?
Generally, the dental filling procedure takes sixty or fewer minutes. A simple procedure can take as little as twenty minutes. Multiple fillings or a bigger filling might take longer.
The placement procedure for some fillings, like gold fillings, cannot be completed in a single dental visit. During the first appointment, the dental professional will remove the cavity and take an impression of your tooth, which they will send to a lab to mold the filling. The dentist will attach the filling to the tooth surface during the second visit.
Once the tooth-filling process is over, your dental professional should spend time with you to discuss how you can prevent dental cavities near or under the filling. These techniques will also assist in preventing cavities in other teeth. The dentist should encourage you to stick to a proper oral care routine, like flossing, using an interdental cleaner daily, and brushing your teeth with fluoride toothpaste twice daily.
Fluoride mouthwash can be useful if you are at higher risk for additional cavities. A sealant can also be useful if you are at higher risk of developing cavities. The sealant is placed on the molars to prevent cavities and plaque accumulation. Follow-up dental appointments may be necessary to check the filling's progress and undergo regular professional cleanings.
Postoperative Care for Tooth Fillings
Before you begin to chew, ensure the local anesthetic has worn off. Refrain from consuming anything too cold or hot if the anesthetic's effect still exists. This prevents you from accidentally biting your tongue or the inside of your cheek.
You might experience pain in the surrounding gums, lasting only a few days. For some days, refrain from eating sticky or heavy foods. Wear a mouth guard for filling protection if you often grind your teeth.
The tooth that has been filled may be slightly sensitive when biting down or to cold and hot temperatures. This is known as postoperative sensitivity and should disappear after a few days. At times, the sensitivity can last one or two weeks. See your dentist for further examination if it does not disappear or worsens to the extent you feel pain.
Also, visit your dentist immediately if your fillings come off. Practice a proper dental hygiene routine, like brushing, cleaning, flossing, and rinsing.
Fillings are not permanent. They can become cracked, chipped, worn, or change color. With time, pressure exerted on teeth can result in a joint between the filling and the tooth opening. This could allow bacteria and food particles to accumulate in this area, causing decay. The length of time a tooth filling lasts also depends on how properly you take care of it. You want to brush twice daily and clean between your teeth daily, too.
Replacing a worn-out filling takes approximately the same time as the initial filling or a bit longer if the old filling material must be drilled. The dentist cleans the old filling material and cavity and inserts new filling material.
Fillings may change color. That means a white tooth filling will no longer match the natural tooth's color. This might be an issue for some individuals when the front teeth are affected. A dental professional can replace the filling to match the natural tooth's color.
In some instances, temporary dental fillings are used. The dentist may use temporary fillings when they need to remove the filling material again soon or during your next visit. Examples of instances where this might be done are:
- During emergency dental treatment.
- There is insufficient time to complete treatment in a single dental visit.
- When the affected tooth needs to undergo treatment multiple times over several appointments.
- When covering up a dental cavity between root canal therapy appointments.
Tooth Filling Complications
Complications with dental fillings are rare, but when they occur, they include the following:
Allergic Reactions to Tooth Fillings
Some patients are allergic to the materials used to make dental fillings, like silver. To assist in avoiding tooth pain once you have filled a cavity, tell your dentist if you have any allergies while discussing your suitable filling options.
A tooth that has just undergone filling placement will have increased sensitivity to cold and hot air temperatures and foods. The sensitivity can arise from minor inflammation, gum irritation, or nerve irritation due to the drilling. In some instances, the sensitivity results from the shrinking of the filling.
The sensitivity should disappear within a short time. If it worsens, instead of improving, schedule a dental visit. Also, see a dentist if you experience severe or worsening pain, warmth or redness of the gums, a fever, or swelling.
You may experience minor soreness or discomfort. Over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen or acetaminophen should help. Pain may arise due to the teeth not fitting together well because of the filling. This problem is known as malocclusion, and your dental professional should fix it to avert further discomfort.
Find an Experienced General Dentist Near Me
Cavities may develop even with proper at-home oral hygiene practices, routine professional dental cleanings, and dental exams. If you have developed a tooth cavity, do not wait to treat it. Remember, dental fillings can only correct minor cases of cavities. The more time passes without treating the cavity, the more likely it is to spread and result in damage beyond what dental fillings can correct, like tooth loss.
At Washington Dental, we provide quality dental filling treatment services for patients seeking them in Carson. To set up a consultation, call us at 310-217-1507 today.