Dental Fillings

Fillings are used to repair caries before they can spread to other teeth. Tooth-colored composite resin fillings can provide support and strength to the remaining tooth structure and an aesthetic effect, although metal amalgam fillings can also be used.

They are a common dental procedure used to restore decaying, cracked, and broken teeth. Even if a tooth has a mild cavity, fillings can help save the natural tooth.

Why Are Fillings Used

When natural teeth are affected by tooth decay, fillings are often used. Small holes in the teeth, called cavities, form when the tooth enamel is worn away. If bacteria and other substances get trapped in a cavity, it can cause the tooth to start to decay.

If cavities are not filled when they are small, further decay can make them grow larger. Eventually, the decay can spread. The tooth may require extraction and replacement with an implant, bridgework, or other dental procedure. Fillings are often used as a preventative measure or as a delay in these procedures.

Fillings can also reduce tooth sensitivity in the area of the decayed tooth by treating the decay and preventing further damage to the tooth or teeth.

What to Expect During Filling Procedures

Your dentist will use a local anesthetic to numb the area around the tooth or teeth that need to be filled. A handpiece and other dental instruments will then be used to remove the decayed area of the tooth. Your dentist will place the filling and cure the material with a special curing light after the cavity has been completely irrigated and cleaned.

Depending on the type of filling you've chosen, the specific steps for filling the tooth and completing the procedure will vary. A liner may be used to protect the nerve before the filling is placed if the damage is near the root.

Types of Fillings

Dental fillings can be made from a variety of materials, including

  • Gold
  • Porcelain
  • Dental amalgam
  • Composite resin
  • Porcelain
  • Glass ionomer

The most popular choice of restorative material today is composite resin.

Composite resin is a tooth-colored acrylic material. It is often used when patients want their fillings to match the color of their natural teeth. Because they require more tools and labor, composite fillings are often more expensive than amalgam fillings. Resin fillings do, however, strengthen the teeth because they are bonded to the tooth.

Several factors, including the level of decay and its specific location within the tooth structure, may influence the type of filling you choose with your dentist. Your dentist may recommend composite fillings instead of amalgam fillings if you have an allergy to mercury or other metals.

You may also choose to have a particular type of filling based on your aesthetic preferences. For example, composite resin may be more desirable for a lower back tooth because the tooth is more visible than an upper back tooth.

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What is the difference between fillings and inlays and onlays?

Inlays and onlays are the most common type of restoration used for larger cavities. In contrast to a filling, an inlay or onlay is placed as a single, solid piece. Your dentist may recommend inlays or onlays, or other dental procedures such as dental implants or dental crowns, depending on the severity and location of the decay.

Do I need to have fillings replaced?

When fillings become worn, loose, or broken, they may need to be replaced. It is also possible to have your fillings replaced with a different type of material. For a more aesthetically pleasing result, many people with amalgam fillings choose to have them replaced with composite fillings.

How can I care for my fillings and prevent further cavities?

While you can't always prevent tooth decay, regular dental care at home can help prevent bacteria and other substances from eating away at your tooth's protective enamel. You can do this by brushing and flossing every day and following any other instructions given by your dentist or dental hygienist. You may also be given dental sealants for small fractures that have the potential to develop into cavities.

Because your gums and tooth enamel are exposed to stomach acid more often, pregnant women who suffer from morning sickness may be at greater risk of oral health problems such as gum disease and tooth decay. Rinse your mouth with water or a fluoride mouthwash and brush your teeth as soon as you're able if you vomit during morning sickness.

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