When you think about dental treatments, the first thing that usually comes to mind is dental fillings. For more than a century, the “drill and fill” has been the foundation of restorative dentistry; teeth become damaged by bacteria, and fillings do an excellent job of halting decay and restoring the structure and function of the tooth. Despite the basic principle behind fillings being the same as it was 50 years ago, the materials we use today behave more like your natural enamel and cause less damage to the teeth, long-term.
How Cavities Form
No matter how well you brush and floss your teeth, you mouth will always have bacteria living in it. Some bacteria are beneficial, while others are harmful. When Streptococcus mutans bacteria feed on plaque and food residues, they excrete acids that can leach minerals from your teeth. Tooth enamel is the second hardest naturally occurring substance on earth (second only to diamond), but it is extremely vulnerable to acids. The more you feed mouth bacteria with starches and sugars, the more acids they excrete. Given enough exposure these acids, tooth enamel will dissolve and leave a cavity (hole) in its place.
Once a cavity has formed, there is nothing the body can do to heal or replace the lost enamel. The only way to stop decay from spreading (and protect your tooth) is with a dental filling. Neglect a cavity for too long and you may wind up with a painful toothache that requires endodontic therapy, also known as a root canal.
How Fillings Repair Damaged Teeth
When you visit Luck Dental for a filling, you can expect the following steps to take place:
- An x-ray will be taken, to help us see the extent of the damage.
- If the cavity extends beyond the tooth enamel, a local anesthetic will be administered to ensure the patient feels no unpleasant sensations during treatment.
- A dental drill is used to treat the tooth. This step removes bacteria and decayed tooth matter from inside the tooth, as well as any other portion of enamel that has been damaged by decay.
- Dental composite resin is applied to the tooth to fill the cavity and replace the lost enamel.
- A special light is used to cure the composite and permanently bond it to the tooth.
- The filling is smoothed and polished to ensure it feels natural and doesn’t interfere with your bite.
Need a Filling? You’re Not Alone!
An estimated 99 percent of Americans will need at least one filling, at some point in their lives. Our modern diet is rich in the foods that feed mouth bacteria, so dental decay is a risk that comes with being human. Tooth decay is actually the most common chronic disease in America, so it’s nothing to be ashamed of when you need restorative treatments.
The best way to prevent the need for fillings is to (1) practice good daily oral hygiene, and (2) visit Luck dental every six months for routine preventive care. During your six-month visits, one of the most important things we do is provide a professional dental cleaning. This involves removing calcified plaque (tartar), so it won’t lead to the formation of a new cavity. Plaque gives bacteria a food source, and, once it hardens into calculus, it cannot be removed with a toothbrush. Only dental tools can remove tartar from the teeth. Dental cleanings don’t just make your teeth look pretty and white; they also save you time and money by preventing the formation of cavities!
What Are Fillings Made Of?
Dental fillings can be fabricated from either metal amalgam or tooth-colored composite resin. Amalgam fillings are made from a combination of metals, including silver, tin, copper, and mercury. Composite fillings are made from a combination of fine particles of glass, acrylic, and minerals, all held together in a resin matrix. This material is soft and malleable until it is hardened with a curing light, which bonds it permanently to a tooth.
Composite fillings are the preferred choice for most patients and providers nowadays because they are made to blend in with the color of your teeth and be less noticeable when you smile. They also bond better to your tooth enamel and are less likely to fracture a tooth.
What You Should Know About Your Fillings
If you have fillings—especially old metal fillings—you should know that they aren’t made to last forever. The average lifespan of a metal amalgam filling is approximately 12 years, while composite fillings last about 8 years. After this point, a filling may become less stable and may start to show signs of failure.
Amalgam fillings have the tendency to expand with age (which can crack the teeth), while composite fillings tend to leak (which can lead to secondary decay). The best way to make sure your fillings are still effective is to visit Dr. Conder every six months, so we can check them during your preventive care visits.