Ins and Outs of Dental Fillings

Dental Health
By: Spirit Dental
September 18, 2018

Doctor giving female patient information at table

Dental fillings are super common, yet a lot of people aren’t entirely clear on what fillings are made of, how fillings are placed in the teeth, and when they can be used to fix a tooth.

Want to learn more about dental fillings so that you can be better prepared the next time you see your dentist to have your cavities filled? We’ve outlined the ins and outs of fillings below.

When Are Dental Fillings Recommended?

When you head to the dentist for a checkup, he or she will examine your teeth and take x-rays to look for signs of decay and damage. If you’re diagnosed with a cavity, if a tooth is cracked or broken, or if there are indications that your teeth are worn down, a dental filling can be used to salvage the tooth and restore its strength.

What Are the Different Types of Dental Fillings?

There are several different materials that can be used to successfully fill in any areas of decay within a tooth. Your dentist can discuss the pros and cons of each option with you so that you can choose the one you’d prefer.

  • Composite fillings are popular because they can match the natural color of the rest of a tooth, allowing them to blend in without being noticeable. These fillings will bond to the structure of your tooth, and they can be used on worn teeth, as well as teeth that are broken or chipped. Despite these advantages, however, composite fillings might degrade more quickly than amalgam fillings would. They might also be pricier than amalgam fillings.
  • Amalgam fillings have been around longer than composite fillings. These are strong and durable, so they’re typically longer lasting, and they might be more affordable than composite fillings as well. Also known as silver fillings, these won’t be as aesthetically pleasing, though, because they won’t match the color of your teeth. They may also be more prone to fractures and cracks, and because they contain mercury, they can release low amounts of mercury vapor as well, so that’s definitely something to think about.
  • Ceramic fillings are typically made of porcelain that can match the color of natural teeth. This material can be more resistant to getting stained over time, too, when compared to composite fillings. Nice! The main disadvantage is the price, as these fillings can be expensive.
  • Glass ionomer fillings are a mix of glass and acrylic and are often chosen when fillings need to be placed below the gum line. What’s interesting about these fillings is that they release fluoride to further help protect a tooth from decay. How neat is that?! It’s important to note, however, that glass ionomer fillings can be more vulnerable to wearing down and fracturing, as the material is weaker than other options.
  • Gold fillings are a type of metal filling, and they’re more expensive than silver amalgam fillings. Also, they’ll be obvious when placed in your teeth (but some people like the look of gold in their chompers). A major perk is that they’ll be more durable and stronger than other materials, such as composite fillings.

How Are Dental Fillings Placed?

You might be nervous about having your teeth filled, especially if it’s your first time going through it, but rest assured that this is a very common procedure that dentists perform every day. In fact, once you’re finished, you might realize that it wasn’t as bad as you had imagined it would be.

Note: if you’re too stressed and anxious and you can’t seem to calm yourself down no matter how hard you try, talk to your dentist about sedation options that can help you relax while you're getting your cavities filled. Ahh, that’s better.  

To help you prepare for what’s ahead, we’ve outlined the basic steps that are involved when a dentist places a filling in a tooth:

  1. You’ll receive a local anesthetic to thoroughly numb the area that will be worked on so you won’t feel anything.
  2. Using a special drill, your dentist will remove all of the decay within the tooth so that only healthy tooth is left behind. Fun fact: other tools, such as air abrasion instruments and lasers, can now be used in place of a traditional drill to get the job done.
  3. After all of the decay is gone, your dentist will start to create the ideal shape for the filling, and this shaping procedure will depend upon the type of filling that you’re going to get. If necessary, your dentist might also apply a liner or base in order to protect the pulp of the tooth.
  4. Some filling materials need to be hardened using a special light, so your dentist might apply a layer of the filling, stop, use the light to harden it, and then continue on with this process in order to ensure that the filling is nice and strong.
  5. After the filling is in place, your dentist will ensure that your bite is correct, and will polish the filling to remove sharp edges. Once everything is perfect, you’ll be free to go!

What Can You Expect After You’ve Gotten Fillings?

Shortly after your filling is complete, you can expect that the anesthetic will wear off and you’ll regain sensation in your mouth.

Your dentist will give you instructions regarding how long you should wait before chewing on the side of your mouth where a filling was placed.

Something to be aware of: sensitivity may occur after a tooth is filled. You might find that cold or sweet foods and drinks, pressure, or air cause sensitivity, and this tends to be more common with composite fillings.

If you experience sensitivity, tell your dentist. You might be advised to wait it out, as the sensitivity could hang around for a couple of weeks. If it doesn’t go away, though, it might be caused by a filling that’s too high and needs to be adjusted, or there might be another problem that needs to be addressed to bring you relief.

Unfortunately, dental fillings won’t last forever. Depending upon the material that was used, a filling could last for many years without causing any problems, but be aware that it might fall out, crack, leak, or simply become worn out over time. On top of that, fillings might even be damaged by clenching and grinding your teeth. By simply visiting your dentist regularly for checkups, you’ll be able to stay on top of your fillings and have them replaced as soon as they need to be.  

Are Dental Fillings Expensive?

The price of dental fillings will depend on several factors, such as the material that's used. Thankfully, dental insurance can help bring out-of-pocket costs down so you don’t have to break the bank to fix your teeth. Plus, with the right policy, such as those offered by Spirit, you can get three cleanings per year so you can take an additional step towards keeping those pearly whites cavity-free.

See? Dental fillings are pretty straightforward and nothing to fear! Your dentist will guide you through the entire process so you can make the best decisions for your teeth, and you can rest easy knowing that fillings are a great way to restore—and, therefore, save—a tooth that’s showing signs of decay.



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