From Decay to Repair: Navigating Tooth Decay and Dental Fillings

From Decay to Repair: Navigating Tooth Decay and Dental Fillings

Dental fillings are very common; almost every single person has had one. It is nothing to be ashamed of or put off having treated. Dental fillings play a crucial role in restoring the integrity and functionality of teeth compromised by decay or damage. Often, they are the first line of defence against the progression of tooth decay, a common issue in dental health. Dental fillings are a standard procedure in dental care to restore the integrity and function of teeth.

What Causes the Need for Fillings?

Dental fillings are primarily required due to tooth decay, a condition where the tooth’s enamel is damaged, leading to cavities. Tooth decay is often a result of poor oral hygiene, high sugar diet, and lack of regular dental check-ups. These factors contribute to the growth of bacteria in the mouth, producing acids that erode the tooth enamel.

Understanding Tooth Decay

Tooth decay is a progressive process that begins with demineralising the enamel, the tooth’s hard outer layer. If untreated, decay can penetrate deeper into the tooth, affecting the dentin and, eventually, the pulp, which contains nerves and blood vessels. This progression can lead to pain, infection, and even tooth loss.

The Process of Filling Treatment

The treatment process for dental fillings involves several key steps:

  • Examination: The dentist examines the affected tooth and may use x-rays to assess the extent of decay.
  • Anesthesia: Local anesthesia is administered to numb the area around the tooth.
  • Removal of Decay: The dentist removes the decayed tooth portion using specialised tools.
  • Cleaning: The cavity is cleaned to eliminate bacteria and debris.
  • Filling Placement: The cleaned cavity is filled with the chosen dental filling material.
  • Polishing: The filled tooth is polished to ensure a smooth finish.

dental filling before and after

Options of Dental Filling Material

Several materials are available for dental fillings, each with its advantages and disadvantages:

  • Amalgam: Durable and affordable but less aesthetically pleasing due to its metallic colour.
  • Composite Resins: Tooth-coloured and preferred for visible areas, but may wear out faster than amalgam.
  • Gold: Long-lasting and durable but expensive and conspicuous.
  • Porcelain: Resistant to staining and closely matches the natural tooth colour but can be as costly as gold dental fillings.

Is Dental Amalgam Safe?

Dental amalgam, commonly used for dental fillings, is an alloy composed of mercury, silver, tin, and copper. The safety of dental amalgam has been a topic of discussion due to its mercury content.

Mercury is known to be toxic at high levels or with prolonged exposure. However, most health and dental organisations agree that dental amalgam is safe for most people. While mercury is indeed a toxic substance, the form it takes in dental amalgam is such that it binds with the other metals to form a stable material.

When amalgam fillings are placed or removed, they can release small amounts of mercury vapour, but the levels are generally considered too low to be harmful to most people. For patients concerned about amalgam fillings, as above, there are alternatives, such as composite resin, gold, and porcelain fillings. These materials do not contain any mercury.

How Long Do Tooth Fillings Last?

The lifespan of a tooth filling largely depends on the type of material used, the size and location of the filling, and the individual’s oral hygiene and habits. Here’s a general overview of how long different types of dental filling can last:

Amalgam Fillings: These silver-coloured fillings, made from a mixture of metals, are known for their durability. They typically last about 10 to 15 years but can last even longer with excellent care. Amalgam is often used in back teeth due to its strength and resistance to wear.

Composite Resin Fillings: These tooth-coloured dental filling materials blend in with the natural colour of your teeth. They usually last around 5 to 7 years, although advancements in materials and techniques may extend their lifespan. Composite fillings are less durable than amalgam, especially in areas of heavy chewing pressure.

Gold Fillings: Gold dental fillings are very durable and can last 15 to 30 years or more. They are less common due to their high cost and noticeable colour.

Porcelain Fillings: tooth-coloured fillings, also known as inlays or onlays, porcelain fillings are durable and resist staining. They are aesthetically pleasing and can last about 10 to 15 years, similar to gold dental fillings.

The Longevity of a Filling Material also Depends on Factors such as:

Oral Hygiene: Practicing good oral hygiene, such as brushing, flossing, mouthwashing and regular dental check-ups, can prolong the lifespan of the dental filling material – and preserve the rest of your natural teeth.

Eating Habits: Avoiding hard, sticky, or chewy foods can reduce the stress on the filling material.

Location and Size of the Filling: Dental fillings in areas of high bite pressure may wear out more quickly.

Clenching or Grinding Teeth: This habit (or TMJ dysfunction) can lead to premature wear or cracking of fillings.

Regular dental check-ups: These are essential for monitoring the condition of fillings and addressing any issues before they require replacement.

Consequences of Ignoring Tooth Decay

Neglecting tooth decay or failing to have necessary dental fillings can lead to several problems, including:

Pain and Discomfort: As decay progresses, it can cause significant pain and sensitivity.

Infection: Untreated decay can lead to infections that might spread to other parts of the body.

Tooth Loss: Advanced decay can result in tooth loss, necessitating more complex dental procedures.

The Importance of Regular Dental Check-Ups

Regular dental check-ups prevent tooth decay and identify problems early on. Dentists can detect cavities in their initial stages during these visits and recommend dental fillings before the condition worsens.

dental facts, lady sitting with hands in front of her face

Are Fillings Painful?

Having tooth decay can cause pain, sometimes requiring emergency dental treatment, but the severity and type of pain can vary depending on the extent of the decay. The process of getting a dental filling is generally not painful, primarily because dentists use local anesthesia to numb the area around the affected tooth.

Here’s a breakdown of what you can typically expect in terms of discomfort or pain during and after the procedure:

During the Procedure:

Anesthesia: Before starting the procedure, the dentist will apply a local anaesthetic to numb the tooth and surrounding area. You might feel a slight pinch or sting when the needle is injected, but this discomfort is usually brief.

Mild Sedation: if you are particularly concerned about the treatment, our Aria dentists can offer you a free/complimentary sedative (in a tablet form) called sleep dentistry, which will completely relax you for the treatment.

Decay Removal: Once the area is numb, the dentist will remove the decayed part of the tooth. Since the area is anesthetised, you shouldn’t feel pain during this process. You might feel some pressure or vibration, though.

After the Procedure:

Temporary Sensitivity: After the filling is placed and the anesthesia wears off, you may experience some sensitivity or mild discomfort in and around the filled tooth. This can last for a few hours to a few days. Sensitivity to hot, cold, or pressure is common but typically temporary.

Sore Gums: The gums around the filled tooth might be sore for a short period, especially if a dental dam was used during the procedure or if the cavity was deep.

Managing Discomfort:

Pain Management: Over-the-counter pain relievers, like ibuprofen or acetaminophen, can help manage post-procedure discomfort.

Oral Hygiene: Good oral hygiene practices, including gentle brushing and flossing around the new filling, can help prevent further discomfort.

Avoiding Triggers: You might want to avoid very hot or cold foods and beverages if the tooth is sensitive after the procedure.

If you experience severe, persistent pain or pressure after a filling, it’s important to contact your dentist. This could be a sign that the filling is too high and needs adjustment, or it might indicate another issue that needs to be addressed. Generally, any discomfort associated with dental fillings is manageable and short-lived.

Beyond Fillings: Root Canals and Dental Implants

In cases where tooth decay has reached the tooth’s pulp, a root canal may be necessary. This procedure involves removing the infected pulp inside the tooth cavity, cleaning the tooth’s inner chambers, and sealing it, often followed by a crown for protection.

If a tooth is lost or severely damaged, dental implants may be considered. Implants are artificial tooth roots that provide a permanent base for fixed or removable replacement teeth, offering a more natural and durable solution than traditional or partial dentures. You may like to consult with a Specialist for your surgery, and a dental laboratory will match your new dental implant crown to your existing teeth.

Need Dental Fillings? Aria can help.

Understanding the intricacies of dental fillings is crucial for maintaining oral health. Regular dental visits, good oral hygiene, and prompt attention to dental issues are vital in preventing decay and ensuring the longevity of your teeth. By staying informed and proactive, you can keep your smile healthy and bright for years.

Aria Dental has locations in Maddington, North Perth, Midland, Scarborough and the Perth CBD.

Contact our Patient Services Team to book your dental filling appointment.
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