A dental filling is a dental material used to repair both the appearance and function of a tooth that has been damaged by tooth decay.

You might be wondering why it's called a "filling" when it involves drilling a hole. Dental fillings are not like Band-Aids; they can't simply cover up the damage and expect the tooth to get better. Unlike many other parts of your body, teeth cannot self-heal when they are damaged or infected. To restore your tooth to its proper form and function, it's necessary to remove the decay first. This is what happens when a drill is used in the process of applying a dental filling. While it may temporarily make the hole created by the decay a bit larger, it is a necessary step to prevent further damage and preserve the long-term health of the tooth.

What Is A Dental Filling?

Fillings are employed to address cavities, which are small holes formed as a result of bacterial acids that have eroded your tooth structure. If left untreated, cavities can expand, burrowing deeper into your tooth and eventually causing its destruction. Fillings play a critical role in arresting the decay process, thereby preserving your tooth, and preventing further costs and discomfort in the future. By filling the cavity, the dentist not only repairs the tooth but also prevents the progression of decay, helping to maintain your oral health and save you from more extensive dental treatments.

What Types of Filling Materials Are Available?

Dental fillings can be made from various materials, and the choice of material depends on the condition of your tooth, your aesthetic preferences, and your budget. Your dentist's primary goal is to select the option that optimally restores the appearance and function of your tooth.

The most common filling materials include:

  • Gold: Gold fillings are highly durable and long-lasting. They are often used on back teeth, particularly molars, as they are not visible when you smile.
  • Amalgam (Silver): Amalgam fillings, also known as silver fillings, are strong and cost-effective. They are typically used on back teeth.
  • Composite (Plastic) Resin: Composite resin fillings are tooth-colored and blend seamlessly with your natural teeth. They are commonly used on front teeth where aesthetics are crucial. They can also be used on back teeth, depending on the location and extent of tooth decay.
  • Porcelain: Porcelain fillings, often referred to as inlays or onlays, are aesthetically pleasing and can be custom-made to match the color and appearance of your natural teeth. They are suitable for both front and back teeth.

At many modern dental practices, there is a preference for using advanced tooth-colored materials, such as durable composite resin or porcelain, for fillings. These materials are aesthetically pleasing and provide a natural appearance. The decision on which material to use for your dental filling will be the result of a well-informed discussion between you and your dentist, taking into consideration your individual needs and preferences.

Procedure Overview

The dental filling procedure is a routine and relatively simple treatment. Here's an overview of the process:

  • Local Anesthetic: The dentist may start by administering a local anesthetic to numb the area being treated. This step is necessary for most fillings to ensure your comfort. However, for very small fillings, it may not be required. If you have concerns about discomfort, feel free to discuss this with your dentist.
  • Decay Removal: The dentist will use a drill to remove the decayed portion of the tooth. This is a crucial step to eliminate the source of the problem.
  • Preparation: After removing the decay, the dentist will prepare the space where the filling will be placed. This might involve etching the inner surfaces of the space with an acid gel to enhance the bonding of the filling material.
  • Filling Placement: The filling material, which may be a resin or other suitable material, is placed into the prepared space. If a resin is used, the dentist may employ a special bright light to harden it. This helps the filling bond securely to the tooth.
  • Polishing: At the end of the procedure, the dentist will polish the tooth to make it smooth and shiny, ensuring it blends in seamlessly with your other teeth.

It's important to note that there are various factors that contribute to tooth decay (cavities), and there are multiple ways to prevent it. Tooth decay can affect individuals of all ages, from children to adults. Regular dental checkups and good oral hygiene practices are essential for maintaining dental health and preventing tooth decay.