Tooth filling involves the removal of decaying matter from within the tooth and filling the resultant cavity with a replacement material. Several filler materials are used in the process. The goal is always to protect the nerve and to stop further decay from causing irreparable damage to the offending tooth.
A tooth filling involves "filling" the cavity in a tooth caused by decay. The dentist must first remove all of the decay. The chosen material is then packed into the space within the tooth to protect it from pain, sensitivity and further decay.
As your dentist will be removing decay that could be close to the nerve in the tooth, a local anaesthetic is necessary. A couple of injections will probably be required, both directly into the gum surrounding the tooth.
Once the area is numb, your doctor will begin the process of removing the dead and decayed matter from within your tooth. This might involve the use of a drill, a laser or a fast jet of air. A range of different instruments is used to ensure every piece of decay is fully removed.
Once all the decay has been removed, your dentist will clean the tooth to prepare for your filling. This step is essential as it prevents further decay and ensures the filling remains in place.
The filler material is applied gradually in layers. Each layer is treated with a special light which hardens it before the next one is applied. Once all of the layers are in place, your dentist will shape the filling to the desired shape. Excess filler is removed, and the filling is then smoothed.
There are five main types of filling in use today. Which one you're offered will depend on your dentist's preferences as well as your budget.
Used for more than a century, amalgam fillings are strong and reliable. They're made from several metallic materials, and they can last a lifetime. However, they're not aesthetically pleasing. In fact, they often look black - making them very noticeable when you laugh or smile. Still in use today, amalgam is usually the cheapest option.
Metal fillings deliver a unique aesthetic that some people are willing to pay a premium for. Usually silver or gold, metal fillings are very expensive. In some cases, they can be up to 10 times more expensive than those made with amalgam. You should expect your gold or silver fillings to last between 10 and 20 years.
Composite fillings are very popular these days as they can be manufactured to match the exact colour of your other teeth. Made with various resins and fillers such as glass and quartz, compositive fillers are highly durable and largely invisible. More and more people are opting for composite fillings, and with good reason. They can be coloured to blend in with existing teeth seamlessly. They are also known to bond chemically with teeth, giving them added strength and longevity. Also, composite fillers are more versatile than other options. They can be used to fill smaller, awkwardly-shaped cavities - so less preparation is required.
A ceramic filling can be made to look just like the tooth it covers - but with the added advantage of being resistant to colour changes. Unfortunately, a ceramic filling is often just as expensive as a gold one.
Glass ionomer is a mixture of glass and acrylic. It's not as durable as the other materials used to make fillings, but it releases fluoride at regular intervals - which is a good way to keep a damaged tooth strong.
Temporary fillings are made with cheaper materials as they're usually only expected to last a week or two. They're used when people are waiting for permanent solutions. They're also used to fill the space in a tooth immediately after root canal treatment. And if you ever have emergency dental treatment, there's a chance you might be given a temporary filling until a more detailed procedure can be administered.
Fillings are an everyday, routine job for dentists around the world. If everything goes to plan, don't expect to be in the dentist's chair for more than half an hour. Depending on the scale of the problem, you may be given more than one pain-killing injection. Just try to remain calm and still throughout the procedure. Your dentist might advise you to avoid temperature extremes for a day or two. You might feel a little residual pain, but other than that, there's not a lot to worry about.