Your dentist says you have a cavity that needs a filling. What does it mean to get a cavity filling?
What is a Cavity Filling?
Having a cavity is no day at the park. Not only is a cavity painful, but it can also affect your daily life from eating and chewing to speaking correctly. That’s where cavity fillings come into play. A cavity filling procedure is the most common way to resolve dental decay that has penetrated the dental enamel of a tooth.
As the name suggests, a cavity filling procedure involves filling the cavity with an inert, dental-grade material to prevent further damage and restore a tooth’s structural capability.
How Do Dental Fillings Work?
Cavity fillings fill in the space created by a dentist’s drill after removing areas of dental decay. Dental fillings prevent the cavity, or space in the tooth, from trapping further food debris and bacteria thereby preventing future decay and tooth pain.
The Modern Dentistry Cavity Filling Process
The cavity filling process has significantly advanced in the last decade. However, the idea of filling in a hole, or cavity, in a patient’s tooth to prevent tooth decay and infection remains the same.
Here’s what the latest technological advances in the cavity filling procedure entail:
- Administer painless needle-free anesthetics
- Remove decay
- Place filling material
- Refine shape
The Latest Advances in Painless Laser Dentistry
The dentist begins by numbing the area around the tooth with the use of local anesthetics. Typically, this is usually achieved with an injection of novocaine or lidocaine. New technological developments administering needle-free or electronic anesthesia make needles a thing of the past and nearly pain-free. No longer does a patient have to fear getting shots on their next trip to a dentist who is using the latest technology.
The dentist will then remove parts of the tooth affected by dental decay. This is achieved with the use of a dental laser. Laser dentistry is the latest advancement in dental technology, treating a wide range of dental and cosmetic problems from cavities, gum disease, and even teeth whitening. The dental lasers we use in our practice are an alternative to the conventional hand-held scalpel, drills, or other tools. Dental lasers have been approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration and are safe for both adults and children. The lasers we use also reduce the need for needle injections for anesthesia as well as allowing more dentistry treatment to be performed in less time and fewer visits.
Once the decayed matter has been thoroughly expunged, it’s time to place the filling material into the cleaned-out cavity.
For cavities located on chewing surfaces in less visible areas of your mouth, you can select traditional "silver-colored" amalgam material or the "composite" resin tinted to match your tooth color.
In the case of amalgam, the filling material is mixed chairside and molded into the cavity. The amalgam filling is the strongest, most durable, and least expensive option for a tooth filling.
Composite resin fillings require an added step in which the dentist must first etch a patient’s tooth. This is done to allow the composite material to mechanically fasten to dental surfaces. The composite resin provides during fillings for small to medium-sized cavities. It costs a little more than the amalgam filling and is considered by some patients to be more attractive in both hidden and visible areas.
Glass or resin "ionomers" mimic the natural color of the tooth and are primarily used for filling cavities along the root or gum line.
Whether you choose amalgam or composite resin, once the material is firmly in place and hardened, it’s time to polish and buff it into shape. The dentist will attempt to shape the filling material to match the original form of the tooth as much as possible. They will also check to see how the filling makes contact with your other teeth. Once this refinement process is complete, your tooth fillings are good to go!
Dental Filling: Questions & Answers
Expect to be at the dentist’s office for around an hour. While the cavity filling process itself is often much quicker, one hour takes into account getting situated and being able to look at x-rays.
There are several filling materials available to most patients. Standard options for tooth fillings include amalgam fillings, composite fillings, metals, ceramics, and glass ionomer fillings.
Each type of dental filling has its strengths and weaknesses and associated costs. The most common type of filling is amalgam and composite resin fillings.
No, the procedure is generally pain-free due to the latest technological advances in dentistry. However, some sensitivity is normal after the procedure.
It is not uncommon to have some minor dental pain in the initial period after a dental filling procedure. However, the pain should subside in a matter of days, if not hours. If pain continues, increases, or occurs in an unexpected place, talk to your dentist immediately. It could be a sign of an oral infection.
The precise answer to this question depends on the type of material used in the filling and the patients chewing habits. For most people, amalgam fillings can be expected to last for at least a decade without requiring replacement. Some are known to last as long as 15 years or longer. Gold and silver fillings also last a long time. Patients can expect to retain their metal fillings between 10 to 15 years. Other types of fillings are much less durable. Composite fillings, for example, usually only last for five years or so. Similarly, glass ionomer fillings also only last around five years. Meanwhile, some ceramic fillings can last more than 15 years.
Costs will vary greatly depending on the exact filling material. It is essential to keep in mind that the least expensive filling material may not be the most cost-effective in the long term. More expensive materials, such as ceramic fillings, may cost more upfront. However, they may also last two to three times longer than more economical materials such as composite resin. In general, amalgam fillings offer the best affordability to durability proposition. Amalgam will cost between $50 to $150 per tooth while composite fillings will cost between $90 to $200 per tooth. Gold and ceramic will cost even more - as much as $1,000 per tooth.
DR. REZA KHAZAIE