Basics Of Dental Fillings: Materials And Procedure
In most cases, fillings are used to address tooth decay. But they are also used when a tooth becomes fractured, or its surface sustains damage that results in a loss of enamel. Most people know what fillings are, but are unfamiliar with the materials used and the process by which they are placed. We’ll cover these details below.
This article will explain the steps a dentist takes to determine if a filling is required. We’ll describe the different types of fillings, how they are placed, and what to expect after the procedure.
Knowing Whether A Filling Is Warranted
There are several methods your dentist can use to determine whether you need to have a tooth filled. He or she may be able to tell simply by looking at them closely with the help of a dental explorer (a probe with a sharp, metal point). Areas of discoloration may suggest the presence of decay.
The probe can be used to detect softness in the enamel. If the metal tip is able to press the enamel inward, it is a sign the tooth may be unhealthy.
X-ray imaging is also used, but poses limitations. If a tooth is filled, the material may prevent visualization of inner decay. The x-ray images may also fail to display very small cavities that are present on the surfaces of teeth. Unless the dentist uses another method of examination, these cavities may remain undetected, and worsen.
Some dentists use a fluorescent laser to generate light that helps reveals cavities beneath the surface. This test is more sensitive, and thus more accurate than conventional examination methods.
Composites Versus Amalgam Fillings
Fillings can be made with several types of material, including zinc, copper, mercury, tin, gold, and porcelain. They can also be constructed of a composite. When you visit your dentist to have a tooth filled, you may be asked to choose between composite and amalgam fillings.
Composite appears off-white, and thus blends naturally with the color of enamel. Amalgam appears silver, and is much easier to see against the tooth. Most people prefer composites because they are less conspicuous and lack metals that contribute to toxicity. They also require less time to prepare.
One of the advantages of amalgam fillings is that all dentists learn how to place them in dental school. By the time they graduate, they can place them to address a variety of circumstances. A different skill set is needed to place composites properly, and the techniques are not taught in dental school. Dentists must learn the skill on their own following graduation. For this reason, while many dentists can place composites competently, many do not offer the service.
How A Filling Is Placed
Once your dentist has determined that you need a tooth filled, you’ll receive a local anesthesia. He or she will then remove all signs of decay in the tooth. This is usually accomplished with the help of a drill that burrows through the enamel into the decay beneath.
After the decay has been removed, the tooth must be shaped in order to receive the filling. Your dentist’s technique will depend largely on the type of filling being placed. If a composite is used, your dentist may create small holes in the tooth’s enamel with a special acid-based gel. This is done to help the composite bond with the tooth.
Once the filling is placed securely, the tooth is polished.
Following The Dental Procedure
Most types of fillings produce sensitivity, which dissipates over a couple of weeks. If your tooth remains sensitive for longer, inform your dentist. It may be necessary to remove the filling, and replace it.
If you experience pain when biting down, or when your teeth touch, let your dentist know. Pain while biting is usually due to improper placement; the filling will need to be reshaped. Pain while touching teeth is known as a galvanic shock. It occurs when the new filling makes contact with the filling of another tooth. Here too, the filling must be reshaped.
Fillings have been used for generations as a restorative dental procedure. They can be expected to last for several years before they need to be replaced.