While many individuals make an effort to keep their teeth in perfect, pristine condition, cavities still can occur. Bacteria enters into crevices, cracks, and grooves in the tooth’s enamel, eating away at the tooth and causing tooth decay. When left untreated, tooth decay may cause permanent damage to the tooth and can even affect the nerve endings.
In these circumstances, the dentist can repair the cavity. They begin the process by drilling out the cavity, removing any decay, and sterilizing the area. Following sterilization, the dentist then applies a filling composite, which protects the health of the tooth by restoring the enamel layer.
Types of Fillings
For thousands of years, humans have filled tooth cavities. Some of the oldest cavities were filled with beeswax. Fillings have come a long way since even a few centuries ago when rudimentary dentists used softened metal. Modern filling materials include:
- Gold - a tried and tested filling material due to its soft, malleable nature, gold fillings are still in wide use today. Dentists make the modern iterations of gold fillings in a dental laboratory and then cement them into place. Although many consider them to be among the best materials, gold can be prohibitively expensive.
Disadvantages of amalgam (silver) fillings:
- Poor aesthetics – silver fillings don’t match the color of natural teeth.
- Destruction of more tooth structure – healthy parts of the tooth must often be removed to make a space large enough to hold the amalgam filling.
- Discoloration – amalgam fillings can create a grayish hue to the surrounding tooth structure.
- Cracks and fractures – although all teeth expand and contract in the presence of hot and cold liquids, which ultimately can cause the tooth to crack or fracture, amalgam material in comparison with other filling materials – may experience a wider degree of expansion and contraction and lead to a higher incidence of cracks and fractures.
- Allergic reactions – a small percentage of people, approximately 1%, are allergic to the mercury present in amalgam restorations.
- Composite Fillings - these state-of-the-art fillings, made from durable plastic resin, offer the benefits of metallic fillings while also matching the natural color of the patient’s teeth. The dentist mixes and applied the composite at the time of filling, allowing the composite to harden in the tooth.
Advantages of composites:
- Aesthetics – the shade/color of the composite fillings can be closely matched to the color of existing teeth. Composites are particularly well suited for use in front teeth or visible parts of teeth.
- Bonding to tooth structure – composite fillings actually chemically bond to tooth structure, providing further support.
- Versatility – in addition to use as a filling material for decay, composite fillings can also be used to repair chipped, broken, or worn teeth.
- Tooth-sparing preparation – sometimes less tooth structure needs to be removed compared with amalgam fillings when removing decay and preparing for the filling.
Different filling materials have different benefits and drawbacks. Your dentist can help determine the best filling for you.
While cavities become apparent to the patient when the tooth begins to experience increased sensitivity or pain, the dentist can often catch them and repair them early. Regular visits to the dentist, performed every six months, increases the chance that the dentist can find and fix the cavity before any pain manifests.