Dental fillings are a common type of restorative dentistry used to treat cavities caused by tooth decay. If your dentist tells you that you require a filling, it’s important to book an appointment as soon as possible. If tooth decay is not treated early, cavities can become deeper, leading to pain as well as risk for infection and the need for a more costly root canal. Here we explain why it is important to act fast, as well as the pros and cons of the different types of dental fillings available.
What Is A Dental Filling?
A dental filling is a restorative dental treatment used to repair tooth decay, fractures, or cracked or broken teeth. Minor tooth decay and fractures can be repaired by dental fillings but larger cavities or severe damage will need more extensive treatment. If you are experiencing pain, tooth sensitivity, or difficulty chewing, you could have a cavity that requires a filling.
When Is A Filling Required?
The following factors help us determine when a filling is the right treatment for your dental issue:
- Cavity Size: The size of your cavity determines when a filling will suffice to solve the problem or if you might need a crown instead. Bigger, deeper cavities often require a dental crown to maintain the integrity of your tooth.
- Tooth Condition: The condition of your tooth is also a factor to be considered. For example, if it’s a cavity that has already been restored many times, the tooth might not withstand the filling process again, in which case a crown is likely required. And if your tooth structure has been weakened by the cavity a crown will be required. If the condition of your tooth is such that an infection has reached the dental pulp, we’ll need to perform a root canal to remove the infection, then fill it and often provide further protection with a crown.
We will perform a thorough assessment to decide if a filling will do or you need something more extensive to save your tooth. The key is to save your tooth from further decay as effectively as possible.
How Are Dental Fillings Performed?
These are the steps dentists typically follow when performing dental filling treatments:
- The area to be filled is numbed using localized anesthesia
- The tooth decay is removed using a drill or laser, depending on the extent of the decay
- The area is probed to test if all the decay has been sufficiently removed
- All the residual traces of decay or debris are cleaned to prepare the tooth for filling
- In some cases, a liner made of glass ionomer or composite resin is slipped over the area to protect the nerve if the decay is near the root
- The dental filling material is applied
- Any excess material is removed
- The restoration is polished, and the surface is evened out to ensure a comfortable bite
Of course, before the treatment begins we will help you decide what type of filling you prefer and is recommended for the issue at hand.
Different Types Of Dental Fillings
There are generally three types of dental fillings:
Composite fillings are the most popular option for many reasons, mainly because they are the same colour as your natural teeth. The composite is made of glass or quartz in resin. We recommend composite fillings if you are not too keen on serious dental work that involves drilling. Since the composites are bonded into place the process is less invasive.
Pros of composite fillings:
- They don’t require a lot of drilling, so very little of the tooth structure is removed
- The composite hardens in a matter of seconds, unlike other types that may take days to fully set
- Composite fillings can be easily repaired if they are damaged
- They disguise the filling for a nice, unified look when you open your mouth
Cons of composite fillings:
- It takes longer to place them than other options
- They are more expensive than silver fillings
- You need to follow a meticulous cleaning regime to maintain them properly
- There can be “micro-leakage” and secondary caries associated with composite fillings
Dental crowns are made of porcelain, ceramic, or other glass-like materials, providing a very natural look. When your tooth needs a more protection than a standard filling would provide due to more severe damage, a crown is required.
Pros of crowns:
- Crown colour can be matched well with your teeth
- Crowns are very durable and resistant
Cons of crowns:
- They are more costly compared to other types of fillings
Also known as silver fillings, dental amalgams were the go-to dental filling treatment before composite arrived on the scene and became more popular. Amalgam fillings are produced using a mixture of metals such as copper, silver, mercury, and tin, making them a lot more noticeable in your mouth than composite fillings. For this reason, as well as the fact that mercury is a potential health hazard, we no longer use amalgam dental fillings.
Pros of dental amalgams:
- They are very durable and strong, so they last longer and put up with a lot of daily wear and tear
- They are the most affordable choice
- They help prevent future cavities, making them an ideal choice if you are prone to tooth decay
- They allow you to chew without worry because they are better at withstanding pressure, wear, and tear
Cons of dental amalgams:
- Amalgam fillings can result in teeth discolouration
- They are very noticeable in your mouth
- They can lead to teeth sensitivity because the metal reacts to hot and cold temperatures in your mouth
- Amalgam fillings can stain your teeth
- Most importantly, mercury may be harmful to your health, so amalgam fillings are no longer used in our clinic
Each of these options removes decay, protects your tooth, and helps reduce the risk for further decay issues such as infection. We can help you make the best choice for your situation.
What Happens If A Filling Isn’t Done?
If you decide against getting a filling, you are taking a preventable risk with your dental and your overall health. Cavities don’t go away; they only get worse. So, if you don’t get a filling done when needed you are looking at a far more serious situation including infection. The end result is either the need for a costly root canal and crown, or total tooth loss.
Cavities have a very damaging effect and can become very painful. They can also make you extremely sick if the infection spreads throughout your mouth and into your bloodstream, where it will head straight for your vital organs. We always advise patients to get their cavities filled as soon as possible. We are not overstating the danger when we say it can be a matter of life and death.