What are fillings?
Fillings are used to restore cavities, which are holes, structural damage or decayed areas of a tooth. Cavities can cause tooth pain, sensitivity of the tooth to hot/cold liquids and foods, or be unnoticed. Untreated cavities can cause the root of the tooth to be infected, structural damage to the point where a crown is needed, or even the loss of the tooth. Filling a cavity prevents further degradation of the tooth and the need for more expensive procedures such as a root canal or crown.
How Fillings Are Done
There are a couple of ways in which fillings are done. First, the dentist will give you a local anesthetic that will numb the gums and sensitive areas around the affected tooth. Next, the cavity is filled.
Most cavities are treated with a “direct filling,” in which the decayed or damaged area of the tooth is drilled out, cleaned, shaped and then filled. Direct fillings are now typically filled with a tooth colored, composite resin material that is applied to the cavity, quickly hardens, and then is smoothed to match the contour of the surrounding tooth. Some dentists still use amalgam metal fillings, which are silver colored and usually contain mercury to fill cavities. Amalgam fillings are effective, but most modern dental clinics do not use these fillings as there are significant concerns about heavy metal exposure from mercury as well as the fact that they are unsightly and highly visible. Direct fillings can be finished in one appointment.
Large cavities or tooth decay is treated with an “indirect filling.” Indirect fillings require more significant removal of a decayed tooth and a custom fitted restoration such as an inlay or crown. The dentist will remove the affected portion of the tooth, clean and shape it, and then take impressions of the tooth to be sent to the dental laboratory for the inlay or crown to be crafted. The inlay or crown is then cemented into place. Indirect fillings take several appointments.
Why are fillings priced differently?
The amount of decay or damage on a tooth can be minimal or extensive. Fillings are usually classified by the number of surfaces of the tooth that are needed to fill, and most fillings require one to three surfaces to be filled. Most dental offices classify fillings as a “1-surface,” ”2-surface,” or “3-surface” filling, depending on how many areas of the tooth are affected. A “3-surface” filling covers three areas of the tooth in one restoration and requires more filling material than a small restoration.
How long do fillings last?
Fillings are not meant to last a lifetime, and typically last about ten years. They do need to be checked regularly by a dental professional to make sure that there is no damage or further decay in the surrounding area. Inlays and crowns can last for far longer, given proper care and dental hygiene.
What are fillings?