A dental filling is the restoration method used to fill an area where decayed material once lived in your tooth. They may also be used to repair broken or cracked teeth as well as a tooth that may have been worn down. Teeth often wear down due to nail-biting or teeth-grinding, which is why it is recommended to steer clear of these habits if possible.
There are a wide variety of treatment options and materials used for dental cavity fillings, and it is therefore important to talk openly with our dental team members and keep us informed of any recent health changes. This will enable Dr. Nishimura to recommend the best treatment path for you.
What Are Cavity Fillings Used For?
As stated above, fillings are a used to restore the integrity and structure of a tooth. The structural loss of a tooth is often due to trauma or decay and can be dangerous to the health of your teeth overall as it may lead to cavities. Fillings are also designed to improve the aesthetics and physical integrity of a tooth. While cavity fillings are most commonly used to treat tooth decay, you may also need one if you have cracked or broken teeth or teeth that are worn from unusual use, such as using them to open things, nail-biting and tooth grinding (bruxism).
Determining If You Need a Cavity Filling
Dr. Nishimura will determine whether or not you need a cavity filled by using several different methods that will tell him if you are experiencing tooth decay. These may include:
- Observation – Dr. Nishimura will look for discoloration amongst your teeth, which may show up as spots on some of your teeth
- X-rays – these can show tooth decay as it is developing on the sides of the teeth, as well as in the dentin that is underneath the enamel. Unfortunately, X-rays are not always accurate when detecting smaller cavities
- Cavity-detecting dye – this dye can be rinsed over your tooth and will stick to decayed areas
- Laser Detection – early and incipient decay can now be detected with a Diagnodent laser device. This places a more quantitative way of determining whether your tooth has a cavity
Types of Dental Filling Materials
There are several dental cavity fillings materials available today. Some of the most common are tooth-colored composite resins, cast gold and amalgam (silver) fillings. Below you will find information on the advantages and disadvantages of each material.
Tooth-Colored Composite Resin Fillings
- Advantages – these types of fillings are both durable and resistant to fractures. They can also be closely matched to the color of your existing teeth and bond well to tooth structure. This type of filling is also very versatile and can be used to repair chipped, broken or worn teeth
- Disadvantages – composite fillings may wear out sooner and require more time in the chair. They can also be expensive and are prone to chipping, depending on where they are located in your mouth
- Advantages – gold fillings are also called inlays or onlays and are made of an alloy of gold, copper and other metals. They are extremely durable and can last at least 15 years. They are also very strong and do not break down due to chewing forces
- Disadvantages – they can be more expensive than other materials and many patients are allergic
- Advantages – silver fillings are quite durable, typically lasting 15 years or more. They can also withstand chewing forces and are composed of a combination of metals. They are inexpensive and have been used for over 100 years
- Disadvantages – silver fillings are less aesthetically pleasing because they do not match the color of your teeth, and they can also lead to discoloration of the surrounding tooth structure. Roughly half of silver fillings are comprised of toxic mercury. Silver fillings also contribute to tooth fractures because of the way they are prepared
Ceramic and ionomer are other less commonly used filling materials. Be sure to discuss your options with Dr. Nishimura before moving forward, as there are numerous pros and cons to each treatment route.