What are fillings?
Fillings are a type of tooth restoration for teeth that have been damaged by minor decay. Filling treatments are a safe and effective way to repair the damage, restore teeth back to their normal shape and function, and prevent further decay.
When you receive a filling treatment, your dentist first removes any bacteria and decayed tooth material. After the affected tooth is cleaned and prepared, a dental filling material is used to fill in the cavity.
Types of fillings
There is a range of restorative filling materials available – though not all of them are suitable for everyone. The filling treatment that is most appropriate for your affected tooth depends on pre-existing allergies, the position of the tooth in your mouth, the level of tooth damage, your preference and your budget. Your dentist is the most qualified professional to recommend the right filling treatment for you.
The different types of fillings include:
- Amalgam fillings are made from a combination of metallic materials including silver, copper, tin, mercury and zinc. When your dentist combines these metals, a soft pliable substance is created and used to fill in your prepared cavity. Within a few minutes, the amalgam hardens, and bonds permanently to your tooth. The trace amount of mercury is locked in your amalgam during the hardening process which renders it harmless – and safe for your body.
Amalgams are more noticeable than composite fillings because they have a characteristic dark colour. This makes them more suitable for back teeth rather than your more visible front teeth. Another reason why amalgams suit your back teeth is because they last much longer than composite fillings, and don’t need to be replaced as often.
- Composite fillings are made from a composite resin which contains silica. They are also known as white fillings, and are less noticeable than amalgam fillings.
The composite resin used in these fillings is semi-solid, and can be modelled and shaped easily over your prepared cavity. When this process is complete, a blue dental curing LED light hardens the composite material. The curing light is safe for your teeth. However, you are required to wear safety glasses to protect your eyes.
- Porcelain fillings are a tooth coloured filling, like composites. They both utilise the same blue light for a curing stage, but that’s where the similarities end. A porcelain filling, also known as an inlay or ceramic reconstruction, is a more aesthetic, stronger and durable dental restoration option than composites.
If your tooth has lost a cusp (the corners of your teeth) to a larger cavity then a porcelain reconstruction is recommended because – in this situation – your tooth has suffered structural damage. Porcelain fillings are designed and then prefabricated in an in-house 3D milling machine or dental lab by using a digital scan or impressions of your affected tooth.
- Gold fillings are made from a gold alloy. They are considered to be the most durable type of dental filling with a life of 20 years or more, but they are also the most expensive filling treatment – for obvious reasons. While the filling treatments listed above usually take a single session, gold filling treatment requires two visits because the fillings have to be prepared in a dental lab. Gold foil can also be used and placed directly to fill smaller cavities.
So, what is the best filling treatment? Perhaps the best answer to that question is no filling treatment at all! Prevent tooth decay and cavities before they happen. You can achieve that by brushing your teeth twice daily, and visiting your dentist regularly for checkups.
But a cavity is a cavity. Don’t put off a filling treatment if you need one. If you suspect you have a cavity, book a check up with your dentist sooner rather than later.