Fillings are a dental procedure done in order to save a tooth from decay. There are several different types of fillings, all which have their pros and cons. In this post, we go through the basics of what a filling is, and discuss different filling materials.
Why are fillings done?
If you read our blog posts called “Cavities 101” or “Acid Erosion 101,” you already know a bit about how cavities are formed, and that fillings are typically used to remove the tooth decay and prevent the cavity from further developing. If you didn’t read it, here’s a quick summary: naturally occuring bacteria in our mouth feasts on food particles, and produces acid as a result. This acid eats away at our enamel, especially when it’s trapped below a layer of tartar or plaque. The decay that is created by this acid erosion is called a cavity. Cavities are cleaned out and filled using a variety of materials in order to stop the decay from going further, which we call a filling.
“I haven’t been to the dentist in forever! I bet I’ll need to get like 5 fillings!”
We hear this a lot. You can actually go a long time without seeing a dentist, and not need fillings! Everyone is different, and a lot of your oral health depends on the care you do on a daily basis. For example, you can take preventative care like staying hydrated, eating lots of veggies and less sugars, flossing regularly, and using a remineralizing toothpaste. Getting cleanings regularly (every 6 months) helps a lot if you have a diet high in sugar, aren’t on top of flossing, or have a really dry mouth. Cleanings are needed to get all the plaque and tartar off your teeth, which develops over time when we aren’t maintaining our oral health day-to-day.
How does a filling work?
A filling works by filling in the cavity - or hole - in your tooth. First, a local anesthetic is used to numb the area. Once the area is numb, it’s very important that it gets cleaned out properly first, because if there is still decay or bacteria trapped inside of the tooth, the cavity will not stop growing and could become a bigger problem! Once all the decay has been removed, the dentist then will fill the area.
What does the dentist use to fill?
There are a few different options for materials to use for fillings: gold, porcelain, silver amalgam, or composite resin. Depending on your age, your insurance coverage, the location of your filling, your lifestyle, your financial situation, and some other factors, you may decide with your dentist to use one material over another. Your dentist can go into all the details about the different materials and let you know what they suggest based on your individual needs.
We’ll quickly run through some things to know about each material:
Gold is the most expensive material, but it doesn't corrode and can last 10-15 years. A gold filling can cost up to 10x as much as a silver amalgam filling. Depending on your taste, you may not like the gold because it’s not the same colour as your tooth’s enamel - but some others like the flash of gold! Gold is very strong, and can withstand chewing forces.
Silver Amalgam Silver is a popular option. It isn’t as expensive, but the dentist may need to remove healthy parts of the tooth in order to make a space large enough to hold the filling. Silver fillings can last 10-15 years, so they are very durable. They don’t match the colour of your teeth however, and can potentially discolour surrounding tooth structure with a greyish hue. You may decide against silver for aesthetic reasons, but there can also be some structural issues with the silver fillings as they can crack or fracture as they expand and contract to a wider degree.
Composite Resin These fillings are great if you are concerned about aesthetics, and are commonly used on visible areas as they can match to the colour of your teeth. This material is also used to fix chips or cracks in tooth. Composite resin actually chemically bonds to the healthy tooth, allowing for further structural reinforcement. The downside? They aren’t as durable as silver, gold or porcelain. They can cost more than silver fillings, yet may last half as long.
Also referred to as ceramic, these fillings can last more than 15 years! They are on the pricier side, usually costing about as much as gold. Porcelain fillings are also great because they are more resistant to staining that composite resin, and match the colour of the tooth.
What are the risks of getting a filling?
As with any medical procedure, there is always risks associated. It is normal to feel tooth sensitivity in the area of the filling for a week or two as your tooth adjusts to the filling. If you have pain or sensitivity that lasts longer than a few weeks, you should contact your dentist to get it checked. There could be an issue with your tooth healing, or the shape of the filling. If an infection has formed, you should seek medical attention immediately!
Remember that the durability and length of time a filling should last is an average, and all cases can be different. Your situation may result in a filling needing to be replaced after only 5 years, or there can even be situations where our body rejects the filling within the first year. Making regular visits to you dentist is required to make sure that your filling is healthy and no damage or problems have developed.