What can I do about a cavity?
Did you know…
Cavities don’t usually hurt. Toothaches are more commonly a symptom of a tooth infection.
The dental filling treatment process
First, your mouth will be numbed using local anesthesia. Your dentist will spray your gum with a numbing agent, and use a needle to numb the nerves near the treatment area. This ensures you won’t feel any pain or discomfort throughout the treatment process.
Removal Of Decay
Next, your dentist will use a dental drill to remove decayed enamel and damaged material from your tooth. Then, the tooth will be cleaned and disinfected to prepare it for your filling.
Filling The Tooth
Your dentist will fill your tooth and restore its structure with a tooth-compatible material like dental resin or metal-amalgam. Once the tooth has been filled, the filling will be trimmed and adjusted to ensure that it matches your natural bite and feels comfortable.
Types of dental fillings
Composite “Tooth-Colored” Fillings
Tooth-colored dental fillings are an ideal way to fill cavities and caries because they can be matched to the color of your teeth. Similar to their metal amalgam predecessor, they are also very strong and durable. Because the front teeth are so visible, composite fillings were originally used most often for anterior teeth fillings, but they have since become the standard filling option for most cavities.
With a tooth-colored filling, your smile will look and feel completely natural. Your new filling should last 10-15 years or longer with proper care, such as regular brushing and flossing, and regular teeth cleanings and oral exams every 6 months.
Amalgam “Silver” Fillings
Amalgam fillings are often called “silver” fillings because they have a silvery-gray appearance. However, they usually don’t contain very much silver at all. Instead, they are made of a blend of different metals, including silver, mercury, tin, and copper. This metal mixture is strong, durable, and resistant to the pressure of chewing and biting.
Although silver fillings are used less often these days in favor of composite, there are certain situations in which amalgam is a better option. Since silver fillings hold up so well to the pressure of biting and chewing, they are sometimes more favorable for cavities in the molars.
Similarly to dental resin, glass ionomer has a tooth-like appearance, and provides you with a seamless dental restoration that looks and feels just like a natural tooth.
Glass ionomer is commonly used for temporary fillings, because the process of filling a tooth with glass ionomer material is very fast and simple. It is not usually used to fill teeth permanently, particularly rear teeth.
This is because compared to other treatments using dental resin, gold, and amalgam fillings, glass ionomer is less resistant to wear & tear from biting and chewing. However, glass ionomer can be used to fill front teeth permanently, in some cases.
Did you know…
There are more than 3 million cases of cavities in the US every year.
Have questions about cavities and fillings? Find answers here.
What are signs that I might have a cavity?
Typical symptoms include tooth sensitivity to heat and cold, and sensitivity to particularly sugary foods and beverages. Your tooth may also hurt or feel sensitive when you chew or bite down on that side.
In some cases, you may develop a toothache, but this depends on the severity of your cavity. Minor cavities typically won’t cause you pain or discomfort.
You may be able to see a cavity with your naked eye. If you look at your tooth and see small holes, pitting, or black/brown stains, it’s possible that it’s a cavity.
My tooth doesn’t hurt. Why do I need a filling?
By the time your tooth hurts, it may be too late to have it filled. Toothaches usually don’t occur until your tooth has become infected. This happens when an untreated cavity or an oral injury destroys the outer layers of your tooth, exposing the vulnerable pulp that lives inside.
If you do end up with an infected tooth, we won’t be able to treat it with a filling. You will likely need root canal therapy and either a dental filling or dental crown to seal your tooth and prevent further damage. This process is more complex, time-consuming, and expensive than having a cavity filled.
Seeing your dentist every 6 months for a cleaning and an exam will help you prevent cavities altogether. These regular visits will also help your doctor find the issues when they’re still small and relatively easy to treat.
Are dental fillings painful?
Not at all. The process of getting a dental filling is completely painless. Your mouth will be numbed before treatment begins and will stay numbed throughout the procedure. Getting a filling is a fast process, too. You can have your tooth filled in as little as 30-60 minutes.
If you’re nervous at the dentist’s office, you can choose to be sedated during your procedure to ensure that you feel comfortable and safe throughout the process. To get started, just contact your dentist and ask about your options for sedation during your treatment.
How do fillings protect my teeth?
A filling protects your teeth by eliminating decay and then sealing the tooth with a protective filling that maintains its structure and integrity. During the filling process, all the decayed enamel will be removed by your dentist. The cavity is then filled with an artificial material, like dental resin or metal amalgam.
By removing the decayed enamel and the bacteria that’s causing the decay, your dentist will halt the progression of the cavity, preventing it from getting larger and potentially causing a tooth infection. The filling helps protect the underlying tooth structure, and ensures that your tooth remains strong.
What if my cavity is too deep or too large?
During your exam, your dentist will check your tooth and x-rays to determine whether or not a filling is right for you. If you have a very deep or large cavity, a filling may not be the appropriate treatment to strengthen and restore your tooth.
In these cases, your dentist may recommend an alternative treatment, like a dental inlay or onlay, or a dental crown. These treatments are more effective at protecting and restoring teeth that have been severely damaged by decay, and will provide better results.
Did you know…
Nearly 80% of Americans have had at least one cavity before the age of 18.