When you think of the dentist, you probably think about fillings. Everyone knows fillings are something you get to fix cavities. Beyond that, however, you might not know much about cavity fillings at all. You may even believe some common misconceptions. For whatever reason, fillings have a strangely overblown reputation as painful, serious, or extremely negative.
It’s not hard to understand why many people think poorly of fillings. Everybody knows cavities are not good for your teeth. Learning you have one is not the best news. It makes some sense to associate that bad news with the treatment for the cavity itself. Unfortunately, however, this has the effect of making people feel like getting fillings is a major, disruptive procedure. But that’s not true in most instances. We want to correct that misinformed understanding. Here’s how fillings work, why they’re not a big deal, and why you shouldn’t hesitate to get one.
What they do
A cavity is a hole left behind after tooth decay destroys part of a tooth. The cavity in the tooth still contains the bacteria that created it. Left unchecked, this decay will continue to spread and damage the tooth. During filling procedures, dentists clean away the decay inside the cavity, usually with a drill, before filling it in. Removing the decay prevents further damage, but it doesn’t fix the damage to the tooth that already occured. That’s where fillings come in.
Most dentists make today’s fillings from composite resin. Many dentists still use silver amalgam and glass ionomer fillings, too. Fillings work by replacing the part of the tooth destroyed by tooth decay. The dentist molds them to match the shape of the surrounding tooth. They restore the strength and integrity of the tooth and prevent decay from re-entering the vulnerable area. Fillings restore full health and functionality to a tooth effectively and immediately, and composite fillings can even match the tooth’s color.
How dentists insert them
First, the dentist will numb the decayed tooth or teeth to be treated using a local anesthetic that is injected into the area. The anesthetic also numbs gums and jaw around the teeth. Once the dentist confirms you’re numb, they use a dental drill to remove the decay.
After your dentist removes the decay and readies the tooth, they place the filling. The specific method used to insert the filling depends on the type of filling you’re getting. ImmediaDent usually uses either composite resin or amalgam fillings. Here’s how each one works:
These are the most commonly used fillings, and the ones that replicate the color of teeth. They are very durable and can last up to 15 years with very good oral hygiene. (With poor oral hygiene, the time is much shorter.) When the dentist initially inserts the composite, it’s actually in a paste form. Upon entering the cavity, the composite paste molds to the exact shape of the cavity.
Composites are placed in layers that eventually fill the cavity completely. After each layer is properly placed and shaped, it’s then “cured” in place. They accomplish this by using a bright ultraviolet light to harden it very quickly in a process called “photo-polymerization.” Polymerizing resin-based fillings using ultraviolet light is fast, safe, and very effective. Ultimately, composite resin fillings completely fill in the cavity, look natural, and restore tooth functionality very effectively.
Amalgam is a mixture of several metals including silver, tin, and mercury. These fillings are what you’re thinking of when you imagine a traditional metallic-looking dental filling. They’re less expensive, longer lasting, and easier to place than composite resin fillings, but they don’t look as natural.
The dentist readies the amalgam using a mixing machine before placing it into the cavity. The dentist tightly compacts the amalgam into the cavity to ensure there are no air pockets. Finally, they carve it into shape, matching the contours of the rest of the tooth, and make sure the bite is proper. The amalgam helps restore tooth function and protects against further decay damage.
Why they’re important
When tooth decay destroys part of a tooth, the resulting cavity is often sensitive. It could expose inner nerves, compromise the tooth’s structural integrity, or become a site of continued infection. Even if the dentist removed the decay from inside the cavity, the hole itself would present a problem for the tooth. By filling in the hole, dentists restore full functionality to a damaged tooth.
Fillings prevent bacteria or plaque from building up inside cavities, which could lead to serious infections. They also reinforce the tooth, to keep it from chipping, cracking, or breaking inward from trauma. Without a filling, even minor cavities could seriously compromise the health and function of your teeth. Obviously, you should do everything in your power to avoid cavities, but fillings mean getting one isn’t the end of the world.
Think you might have a cavity? Consulting with a professional to find out for sure is always the right move. The faster you take care of a cavity problem, the better. Getting cavities filled quickly helps prevent all kinds of very serious dental problems. You’ll feel better faster, too.
Anytime you need a cavity filled, give ImmediaDent a call. We’re always ready and happy to help.