Dental fillings are perhaps the most common, best-known of all dental treatments. But you really may not know as much about them as you assume! NK Family Dental is here to “fill you in” on the facts about fillings – including how tooth decay starts and progresses, how to tell if you have a cavity, types of materials used for fillings, what you can expect during your appointment for a typical treatment and, of course, how to prevent tooth decay!
How Tooth Decay Starts and Progresses
“Tooth decay occurs when foods containing carbohydrates (sugars and starches), such as breads, cereals, milk, soda, fruits, cakes, or candy are left on the teeth. Bacteria that live in the mouth digest these foods, turning them into acids. The bacteria, acid, food debris and saliva combine to form plaque, which clings to the teeth. The acids in plaque dissolve the enamel surface of the teeth, creating holes in the teeth called cavities.”
Cavities (also known as caries) deepen as tooth decay progresses. If left untreated, tooth decay can lead to infection and tooth loss.
How to Tell if You Have a Cavity
Early-stage tooth decay has few obvious symptoms, so you may not be aware of it until it is somewhat far advanced. As Mayo Clinic points out, the signs and symptoms of cavities vary depending upon their size and location. Ideally, your dentist will discover an early-stage cavity during your twice-yearly examination and cleaning.
NK Family Dental is proud to offer our patients advanced cavity detection technology during every one of our complete checkups. We utilize DIAGNOdent technology to thoroughly check for the presence of cavities. DIAGNOdent utilizes lasers that are highly effective in detecting cavities. With DIAGNOdent, we are very successful in locating cavities early, allowing our patients to seek quick treatment and prevent serious oral health problems from occurring later.
If you’ve let your regular examination appointments lapse – or decay begins and rapidly advances between visits – Mayo Clinic provides these warning signs. Should you experience any of the following at any time, schedule an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible:
- Toothache, spontaneous pain, or pain that occurs without any apparent cause.
- Tooth sensitivity.
- Mild to sharp pain when eating or drinking something sweet, hot, or cold.
- Visible holes or pits in your teeth.
- Brown, black or white staining on any surface of a tooth.
- Pain when you bite down.
Types of Materials Used for Fillings
Several options are available for tooth fillings, each with its advantages and disadvantages. Your dentist may recommend one specific material for your filling. If you have questions about the material, ask your dentist before the procedure. Crest provides detailed information on this topic, which follows verbatim:
“Types of tooth fillings include gold, silver amalgam (a composite of mercury, silver, and other metals), tooth-colored composite material, porcelain, and a special type of glass. The best tooth fillings for you will depend on cost, what your insurance may cover, and your aesthetic preferences. There is a wide variety of materials used for filling cavities and they vary in strength and color. The two most common types are amalgam and composite.”
- Amalgam Fillings: Amalgam has been used by dental professionals for more than a century; it is the most researched material used for filling cavities. Amalgam fillings are strong and are therefore ideal for filling cavities in the back of the mouth such as in the molars, where chewing takes place. Since they are made of a combination of several metallic elements, amalgam fillings can be noticeable when you laugh or smile. These filings are among the least expensive of all cavity-filling materials.
- Composite Fillings: Sometimes referred to as composites or filled resins, these fillings feature a combination of glass or quartz filler and can be made to match the color of your tooth. Composite fillings are also fairly durable and are ideal for small-to-mid-size restorations in areas of your mouth that perform moderate chewing.
- Metals: Gold or silver amalgam are the most common metals used for a cavity filling. Gold fillings can cost as much as 10 times more than silver amalgam fillings, but some people prefer the appearance of gold to silver fillings if they want the durability of metal vs. a less-durable composite material. Some people don’t like the appearance of metal fillings, but metal fillings can last as long as 10-15 years before they need to be replaced.
- Ceramic: A ceramic cavity filling (usually made of porcelain) is tooth-colored, and it may be less likely to show tooth stains over time than a composite cavity filling. But price is a factor – a ceramic filling can be nearly as expensive as a gold cavity filling.
- Glass Ionomer: This blend of acrylic and glass is used to create a cavity filling that releases fluoride to help protect teeth. But a glass ionomer cavity filling is less durable than other types and may need to be replaced in as little as five years.
What You Can Expect During Your Appointment
Getting a filling filled people with dread in years past, but today’s procedure is painless and comfortable. At our practice, Dr. Nilofer Khan – owner and General Dentist of NK Family Dental – will discuss the details of the procedure with you, and answer any questions you may have. Once you are comfortable in the chair, she will apply a topical anesthetic gel to your gums in the area(s) to be treated. This numbs the surface of the gums in preparation for injection of the local anesthetic, which will numb the treatment area itself so that you will feel no pain during the procedure. Dr. Khan will confirm with you that the treatment site is numb before beginning.
At this point, Dr. Khan will remove the decayed portions of the tooth, as well as any existing filling material that is present (if applicable). She then carefully applies the filling substance, making sure that the cavity has been adequately sealed. Next, this material is hardened using a dental curing light, providing it with the strength and stability of a natural tooth. The process is completed by polishing and shaping the tooth to provide it with a refreshed appearance. Patients who receive a filling are able to immediately continue with their usual brushing and flossing practices following the treatment.
What to Do If a Filling Falls Out
While a filling may last indefinitely with proper care, it could crack, leak, or fall out. Often, this is the result of daily wear-and-tear, bruxism (tooth-grinding), or bad habits – such as chewing ice or biting down on hard candy. Our blog post – “Filling Fall Out?” – covers this topic in greater detail. Depending upon the location and depth of the filling, a lost filling may or may not be a dental emergency. But the situation is urgent, and the filling does need to be replaced as soon as possible. Call your dentist to make an appointment.
Cavity Prevention Tips
Preventing tooth decay involves making good oral hygiene practices part of your regular routine. WebMD provides the following advice:
- Brush your teeth at least twice a day with fluoride-containing toothpaste. Preferably, brush after each meal and especially before going to bed.
- Clean between your teeth daily with dental floss or interdental cleaners.
- Rinse daily with a fluoride-containing mouthwash. Some rinses also have antiseptic ingredients to help kill bacteria that cause plaque.
- Eat nutritious and balanced meals and limit snacks. Avoid carbohydrates such as candy, pretzels, and chips, which can remain on the tooth surface. If sticky foods are eaten, brush your teeth soon afterward.
- Check with your dentist about the use of supplemental fluoride, which strengthens your teeth.
- Ask your dentist about dental sealants (a plastic protective coating) applied to the chewing surfaces of your back teeth (molars) to protect them from decay.
- Drink fluoridated water. At least a pint of fluoridated water each day is needed to protect children from tooth decay.
- Visit your dentist regularly for professional cleanings and oral exams.
The Take-Home Message
Dental fillings are a common restoration that treats tooth decay and prevents its progress. Good oral hygiene practices and regular visits to your dentist can help you avoid tooth decay, or catch it at an early stage before it causes serious damage to the tooth and/or infection. Advances in dental technology have made getting a filling an easy, painless procedure, so you should not risk your oral or general health by avoiding treatment.
At NK Family Dental, it is our mission to provide the highest quality and most compassionate oral care to our Chicago patients, including both dental and periodontal services. Our dental specialists include our general dentist, Dr. Nilofer Khan, our periodontist, Dr. Amir Danesh, and our endodontist, Dr. Sabek.
We understand that the main concern you may have is cost, which is why we accept all major PPO plans for dental insurance and also offer our in-house dental plan. Please see our financing page for more information.