Dental Fillings and Fissure Seals
When a tooth is compromised by decay, the decayed tooth structure is removed and a filling is used to restore the tooth back to its original shape and function.
What is a filling?
Once decay has taken hold in a tooth, it will continue to damage more and more of the tooth, becoming more painful until treated by a dentist. A filling repairs the damage caused by decay and stops any more bacteria from entering the tooth. Fillings can be made of a number of different materials and can be used to repair any tooth in the mouth.
Types of fillings
- Composite fillings are a popular and natural-looking solution made of resin. Composite resin is soft and malleable so it can be shaped to fit the cavity. A blue light is then used on the composite to harden it. The finished result is very durable and is coloured to match natural teeth.
- Amalgam fillings were the norm for many years but have fallen out of favour in recent years. Amalgam is a mix of metal alloys that are soft when being used to restore a cavity but harden once in place. Amalgam contains minute traces of mercury and this has turned many people away from the product. It’s also a dark colour that stands out in stark contrast to the surrounding tooth.
- Gold fillings are a long-lasting and durable alternative but are rarely used these days. The cost of a gold filling is generally higher than a silver amalgam and the colour doesn’t match natural teeth.
- Porcelain is used to make onlays and inlays – restorations that are used when a large amount of tooth structure has been removed. Onlays and inlays retain more natural tooth structure than a crown and will strengthen a weakened tooth. Modern technology has made it possible for these restorations to be manufactured in your dentist’s surgery.
What is the procedure?
First and foremost, thanks to modern anaesthetics and the way they are administered, getting a filling is virtually painless.
Your dentists will start by numbing the tooth and the area around dit, and then removing any decay with either a drill, air abrasion unit or a laser. The objective is to leave as much sound, natural tooth structure as possible. The cavity will then be disinfected and dried before a filling material (usually composite resin) is put in place. Once the material has hardened, the dentist will shape it to look and feel just like a natural tooth.
Sometimes the pits and fissures in the back teeth are so deep that it’s impossible for the bristles of a toothbrush to keep the surface clean. This can make it a breeding ground for bacteria which can result in decay. The dentist may apply a dental sealant, commonly known as a fissure seal, to fill the pits and fissures and act as a barrier to plaque, bacteria and food debris.
How long does a filling last?
Fillings are situated in a warm, wet, bacteria-filled environment and are placed under constant stress and movement. Despite this, the average life of a filling is about 12 years. Sometimes things go wrong and a filling may crack, break or even fall out. However, with a regular oral hygiene regime, the life of a filling is substantial.
When a filling has just been placed, it’s advisable not to eat or drink until the anaesthesia has worn off. This can take from one to three hours. Sensitivity to hot and cold drinks may occur for a few days after the procedure. Composite resin is completely cured by the time you leave the dental surgery. As soon as the anaesthetic has worn, you are able to eat, chew and drink as normal.
If you experience any pain or the new filling simply doesn’t feel right, see your dentist immediately.