Many dentists use tooth-colored fillings to repair a cavity and restore a tooth’s prior strength. Fillings are a necessary part of the treatment process to prevent further tooth damage. Historically, patients could only receive amalgam fillings, but as technology has improved, patients can now utilize tooth-colored fillings to give their teeth a more natural look. Find out what the process is like to receive a filling, and what you can do to replace your old fillings with the new-and-improved tooth-colored fillings!
Fillings are one of the most popular ways to treat a cavity and restore a tooth’s prior strength. Determining whether you have a cavity or not is not always a simple process, but dentists have a variety of methods they use to determine whether your cavity is one that needs a filling. Cavities are a form of tooth decay, so many times a dentist can observe discolored spots on your teeth that indicate decay. Your dentist will use an explorer (a metal instrument with a sharp tip) to explore for possible decay. Healthy enamel will be hard and resist pressure from the explorer, but decayed enamel is softer so the explorer will stick slightly to the tooth with the soft enamel, indicating a cavity. Another method to determine cavities is through cavity-detecting dye, in which the dentist will rinse the dye over your teeth. It’s very useful as the dye will stick to the tooth with decay and rinse off of the ones that are healthy. X-rays are also helpful in detecting cavities as they show decay developing in the enamel on the sides of teeth where they come together, and in the dentin that lies underneath the enamel. Sometimes X-rays aren’t the preferred method for detection, though, as they often aren’t accurate in detecting cavities on the top surfaces of teeth. Other tooth restorations might block X-rays from discovering the full damage, as well. Laser fluorescence cavity detection aids are especially useful for pit and fissure areas on the top surfaces of your molar and premolar (chewing) teeth as their small wands measure changes caused by caries. These methods provide dentists a variety of ways to truly determine the depth and severity of your cavities before you ever need to receive a tooth filling.
Fillings are a probable choice for protecting your tooth against further damage from a cavity. There are many different types of tooth fillings, and each have their own pros and cons. The best tooth fillings will depend on the cost and which filling would best fit your aesthetic needs. Each type of filling uses different materials and varies in strength and color. The two most commons types of fillings are amalgam and composite. Amalgam fillings have been used by dental professionals for more than a century, and are made from a combination of several metallic elements, making them extremely strong and ideal for fillings. They are among the least expensive of the fillings, but their use of metals makes them noticeable in your mouth whenever you talk or laugh. Composite fillings are composed of tooth-colored plastic and glass mixture that is placed onto the cavity, layer by layer. They are fairly durable, and work well for small to midsize restorations in the mouth with teeth that don’t require as much chewing.
Metals are another common type of filling, but are limited to either gold or silver amalgam. Gold fillings can cost as much as 10 times the amount of silver, but are much more durable in the long run. Aesthetically, metal fillings aren’t as pleasing to the eye as others, but they can last 10-15 years before needing to be replaced, which can be cost effective for those not wanting to visit the dentist for multiple replacements. A ceramic cavity filling is similar to a composite filling in that it is tooth-colored, but has a higher stain resistance than composite fillings do. Unfortunately, ceramic fillings can be just as expensive as gold fillings, so cost is a huge factor for patients. Lastly, a glass lonomer filling is a blend of acrylic and glass that is used to create a cavity filling that releases fluoride to protect teeth. They are less durable than the others, and typically are replaced in less than five years.
Whenever you visit your dentist for a filling, a local anesthetic will be used to numb the area of the mouth in which you will be receiving care, if needed. The dentist will then use a drill (or laser in certain instances) to remove decay from the tooth. Drills are necessary because they can cut through the enamel of the tooth where the decay is developing, and depending on which layer the cavity is found, different high and low-power drills are used. Once the decay is removed, your dentist will shape the tooth in preparation for the filling. Each filling has a different type of shaping procedure, and depending on the filling, your dentist may apply a base, or liner, to protect the tooth’s pulp. For composite fillings, a bonding process is used in which a gel is placed on the tooth to roughen the tooth’s surface in the area of the cavity. A bonding agent is then applied which fills in the roughed up edges so that the filling can bond to the tooth. Certain types of fillings get hardened through the use of a special light. The dentist layers the material on the tooth and then shines the light on the resin several times, making sure that it cures (hardens) the material to make it strong.
If you’re having trouble with a cavity or need to get a filling reset, call Stonebrook Family Dental at (303) 872-7907 for an examination and more information on how to protect your teeth from future tooth decay!