Dental fillings are one of the most common dental procedures. They are used to treat tooth decay by filling holes known as cavities or areas of missing teeth. Cavities can cause pain, sensitivity and only get worse over time. A dental filling is a relatively quick and effective way of fixing a cavity. In this article, we answer the question: what is a dental filling? We discuss the different types of filling materials and when you might need one. 

What is a dental filling?

Dental fillings are used to restore tooth structure that has been lost due to decay or fracture. In its early stages, tooth decay causes tiny holes in the tooth’s enamel (surface layer) that are known as cavities. A dental filling is used to replace the missing tooth from the holes and prevent any further decay. The longer you go without treating tooth decay, the worse it will get. If left untreated for too long, it can lead to infection, expensive dental treatment and even tooth loss. 

The process of getting a dental filling is:

  1. Your dentist may numb the area using a local anaesthetic. 
  2. Once the area is numb your dentist uses a special tool to remove decay and broken tooth, cleaning out the area. 
  3. After this, the area is filled with a dental filling material and hardened under a special light. 
  4. Your dentist does a few final checks once the filling is in place to make sure your new filling is smooth and the bite feels normal. 

The whole process usually takes between 30 and 90 minutes and can be done in a single visit. There isn’t much downtime, you mostly just have to wait for the anaesthetic to wear off. There may be a little bit of sensitivity in the first 24 to 48 hours but that should subside relatively quickly. 

What are the common types of fillings?

There are a few different types of fillings, each made from a different material. Below we discuss them:

Amalgam fillings

Amalgam fillings combine silver, copper, tin and mercury to create a durable material. It is a relatively inexpensive material that is strong and easy to use. It is not used much these days, this is mainly because of the colour. Amalgam fillings are a metallic grey colour and do not blend in naturally with your surrounding teeth. 

Composite fillings

Composite fillings are made from a finely ground acrylic resin. They are matched to your existing tooth colour so can offer a seamless finish. Composite fillings are one of the most natural-looking options, however, they are not as strong as some of the other materials. They may need to be replaced more regularly. 

Gold inlays and onlays

Gold inlays and onlays can be used to fill teeth also. They are considered to be the strongest option and can last up to 10 and even 20 years. They are custom made in a special lab before being placed in your mouth. Unfortunately, gold fillings can be an expensive option. They are also coloured so do not blend in with your natural tooth colour.

Porcelain inlays and onlays

Porcelain inlays and onlays are also used to fill teeth. They are similar to gold ones in that they are specially made in a lab before being cemented into place to fill your tooth. Porcelain is stain-resistant and colour matched to your teeth. These factors make them quite a popular choice. However, they too can also be a more costly option.

When do I need a dental filling for my tooth?

The only way to know if you need a filling for sure is by consulting your dentist. However, there are a few signs and symptoms to watch out for:

  • Tooth sensitivity (especially to hot and cold temperatures)
  • Your floss tears, (a cavity’s sharp edges may cause your floss to tear)
  • Damage to a previous filling (sometimes you can feel or see an old filling has fallen out)
  • A visible chip or crack in your tooth
  • Dark spots on your tooth
  • A white line where your tooth meets your gum
  • Consistent toothache

If you have any of these symptoms you should speak to your dentist as soon as possible. 

Consult your Mona Vale dentist

Come and see one of our friendly dentists at Beaches Dental Mona Vale. We want all of our patients to have healthy teeth and gums and happy dental experiences. Making an appointment is simple, and we love welcoming new patients to our practice.  Please don’t hesitate to get in touch.