Fillings are used to replace missing tooth structure due to decay or fracture. Fillings can be made of a wide variety of material such as composite resin, glass ionomer, amalgam, gold and even ceramic.
Benefits of fillings.
The main benefit is in its ability to protect the underlying dental pulp (nerve and blood vessels within a tooth) from injury. It also restores chewing function and appearance.
What will the dentist do?
The dentist starts by examining the location, size of the defect and vitality of the affected tooth. If the defect is large or cannot be readily seen, he may recommend you to take a small x-ray image to assess the situation better. Your dentist will also try to find out more regarding your expectations on the appearance and longevity of the filling.
Treatment consist of careful removal of the decayed parts and weakened areas of the teeth. A medicated lining may be used protect the pulp tissues. The cavity then filled using the material of your choice and shaped to mimic a natural tooth.
How long will it take?
The procedure time is dependent on the severity of the condition. Smaller cavities can be restored within 15 minutes whereas larger ones may take up to 45 minutes.
What will the experience be like?
The procedure is painless when the cavity is small. It is possible for you to feel sensitivity if the cavity is deep as it will be nearer to the pulp. In such cases, your dentist will often offer you the choice of local anaesthesia so that you will feel more comfortable during the procedure.
How do I decide on the type of filling material?
In general, metallic fillings have the advantage of being more durable whereas non-metallic fillings have the advantage of being more tooth-like in appearance. Non-metal fillings are more technique sensitive and hence takes a longer time to fabricate. Ceramic fillings have good durability and appearance although they do cost more. It is advisable not to place different type of metal fillings side by side to avoid the phenomenon of Galvanism.
Some patients have been concerned about the health risk and environmental impact of amalgam since it contains mercury. It is true that amalgam is an alloy of silver, tin copper and mercury. The US FDA, after an extensive review of scientific evidence of its use for the last 100 years, did not find any health risk associated with its use. Dentists are also trained on the proper storage, handling and disposal of mercury. In fact, most modern dental practices use capsule systems whereby there is zero direct contact with the mercury used in amalgam.
Ultimately, the decision will hinge on your priorities in terms of durability, appearance, the amount of healthy tooth structure remaining, safety and cost. Do consider letting your dentist know what is important to you so that he can better guide you in this matter.
How long will it last?
Fillings that are well done can potentially last many years with proper home care and regular professional care. The most common reasons for the need for retreatment is due to tooth decay adjacent to the filling, discolouration and fracture.
Are there any risks?
Modern dental fillings have a very good safety record. If you are uncomfortable with the use of amalgam in young children or during pregnancy, please let your dentist know so that he can advise you on the use of an alternative filling material.