Fillings

Cavity.If you have never had a cavity, congratulations! If you have had one, you are not alone. About 78% of us have had at least one cavity by the time we reach age 17, according to a 2000 report by the U.S. Surgeon General. Fortunately there's a time-tested treatment for cavities: the dental filling.

Fillings do just what the name implies — seal a small hole in your tooth, i.e., a cavity, caused by decay. This prevents the decay (a bacteria-induced infection) from spreading further into your tooth and, if untreated, continue on to the sensitive inner pulp (nerve) tissue located in the root canal. Should that happen, you would need root canal treatment.

There are a variety of materials used to fill teeth these days, but the process of filling a tooth is similar regardless. The first step is a clinical exam of the tooth with x-rays, to determine the extent of the decay. Then the decayed area of the tooth is removed, usually with a handheld instrument such as a dental drill. Of course, your tooth will be anesthetized first, so you won't feel any discomfort. If you normally feel nervous about receiving numbing injections, it's possible that taking an anti-anxiety medication or using nitrous oxide can help you feel more relaxed. After removing the decay, the remaining tooth structure is roughened or “etched” with a mildly acidic solution; then translucent cement is applied to bond the tooth and the filling material together.

Types of Fillings

There are two broad categories of dental fillings: metal fillings and tooth-colored fillings. Each may offer particular advantages and disadvantages in certain situations.

Metal Fillings

Metal Filling.

Metal Fillings.Amalgam — The classic “silver” filling in use for more than a century, dental amalgam is actually an alloy made up of mercury, silver, tin, and copper. The mercury combines with the other metals in the amalgam to make it stable. These fillings require removing more of your tooth structure than adhesive fillings, thereby weakening the tooth. We don't perform this service in our office.
 

Tooth-Colored Fillings

Tooth-Colored Filling.

Tooth-Colored Fillings.Composite — A popular choice for those who don't want their fillings to show, composite is a mixture of plastic and glass, which actually bonds to the rest of the tooth. Composites are more expensive than amalgam fillings, and the newer materials do not degrade or significantly wear over time. Less drilling of the tooth is necessary when placing composite as compared to amalgam, leaving your tooth stronger over the long term

Porcelain — These high-tech dental ceramics are strong, lifelike, and don't stain as composites can. They are sometimes more expensive than composites because they may require the use of a dental laboratory or specialized computer-generated technology. While considered the most aesthetic filling, they can also, because of their relatively high glass content, be brittle.

Watch Tooth-Colored Fillings Video

What to Expect After Getting a Filling

The numbness of your local anesthetic should wear off within a couple of hours. If your tongue is numb, you should guard against biting it. Otherwise, there are no eating or drinking restrictions. With adhesive restorations, you should not expect any sensitivity to heat or cold. If you have pain when biting down or chewing, an adjustment to your filling should be made. 

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