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For over 150 years standard fillings have been made out of a silvery-grey material called ‘amalgam’. This is still one of the strongest and longest-lasting materials available for dental fillings. However, many people find it unattractive and some are concerned about possible health risks.
White fillings are now becoming a popular alternative to amalgam fillings. The new dental materials mean it is much easier to find a perfect match for the shade of a particular tooth. In most cases, it is quite impossible to see that the tooth even has a filling. Sometimes white filling material can be used to cover unsightly marks on the teeth, in a similar way to veneers.
Dental fillings are also used to repair cracked or broken teeth and teeth that have been worn down from misuse (such as from nail-biting or tooth grinding).
What Steps Are Involved in Filling a Tooth?
First, the dentist will numb the area around the tooth to be filled with a local anesthetic. Next, a drill, air abrasion instrument, or laser will be used to remove the decayed area. The choice of instrument depends on the individual dentist's comfort level, training, and investment in the particular piece of equipment as well as location and extent of the decay.
Next, your dentist will probe or test the area during the decay removal process to determine if all the decay has been removed. Once the decay has been removed, your dentist will prepare the space for the tooth filling by cleaning the cavity of bacteria and debris. If the decay is near the root, your dentist may first put in a liner made of glass ionomer, composite resin, or other material to protect the nerve. Generally, after the dental filling is in, your dentist will finish and polish it.
Several additional steps are required for tooth-colored fillings and are as follows. After your dentist has removed the decay and cleaned the area, the tooth-colored material is applied in layers. Next, a special light that "cures" or hardens each layer is applied. When the multilayering process is completed, your dentist will shape the composite material to the desired result, trim off any excess material, and polish the final restoration.
What Types of Dental Filling Materials Are Available?
Today, several dental filling materials are available. Teeth can be filled with gold; porcelain; silver amalgam (which consists of mercury mixed with silver, tin, zinc, and copper); or tooth-colored, plastic and glass materials called composite resin fillings. The location and extent of the decay, cost of dental filling material, patients' insurance coverage, and your dentist's recommendation assist in determining the type of tooth filling that will best address your needs.
How Should I Care for My Teeth With Dental Fillings?
To maintain your dental fillings, you should follow good oral hygiene practices – visiting your dentist regularly for cleanings, brushing with a fluoride toothpaste, and flossing at least once a day. If your dentist suspects that a filling might be cracked or is "leaking" (when the sides of the filling don't fit tightly against the tooth, this allows debris and saliva to seep down between the filling and the tooth, which can lead to decay), he or she will take X-rays to assess the situation. If your tooth is extremely sensitive, if you feel a sharp edge, if you notice a crack in the dental filling, or if a piece of the dental filling is missing, call your dentist for an appointment.