We get it. A trip to the dentist isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time. This is especially true if you’ve been experiencing signs of a cavity – pain in the gums around a particular tooth or teeth, sensitivity to extreme heat or cold, or mild to severe pain while eating. But, visiting the dentist is essential to preventing cavities from getting worse or from getting them in the first place. What should you do if you show signs of a cavity, and what are your options?
Types of Dental Fillings
Depending on the severity of your cavity and location, there are several different types of dental fillings. They each have pros and cons and — ultimately — your dentist can provide the best choices for your specific situation. Fillings may consist of gold, silver, tooth-colored composite material, porcelain, or a special type of glass. Options include:
One of the most common types of dental fillings, amalgam fillings have been used by dentists for more than a century. They’re strong and are ideal for filling cavities in the back of the mouth – such as your molars. They’re typically made from several metallic elements and work best for areas of the mouth that experience a lot of chewing.
Pros: Silver fillings can last 10-15 years – usually outlasting composite fillings. They’re strong and can withstand strong chewing forces. Plus, they’re one of the least expensive filling options.
Cons: Amalgam fillings don’t match the color of your teeth, and sometimes healthy parts of the tooth must be removed to make room for the filling. They can sometimes impact the color of the surrounding teeth and lead to cracks or fractures due to the wider degree of expansion and contractions. Plus, a small portion of the population is allergic to the mercury present in the filling.
The second most common type of dental filling, composite fillings are also called composites or resins. They are made out of a combination of glass or quartz filler and can match the color of your other teeth. Composites are fairly durable and commonly used for small-to-mid-size cavities located in areas that only experience moderate chewing.
Pros: Composites can closely match the shade and color of your other teeth, making it less noticeable. They’re chemically bonded to the tooth, providing added support. They can be used for more than just fillers – fixing chipped, broken, or worn teeth. Unlike amalgam fillings, less healthy tooth structure needs to be removed to make room for the filling.
Cons: Composite fillings only last at least five years compared to amalgam filling’s 10 years. You’ll spend a longer time in the dentist’s chair compared to amalgam fillings, but only about 20 minutes more. They will, however, require more visits and have a higher chance of chipping – depending on the location.
When filling a cavity, gold and silver amalgam are the most commonly used metals. Gold metal is more durable than the silver combination of metals, but both can last as long as 10-15 years. Metal fillings typically fill in the gaps within your tooth and don’t cover the entire tooth as a metal crown would.
Pros: Metal fillings can last as long as 10-15 years, with gold metal fillings providing the most durable experience. They provide a strong experience for chewing regardless of the location of the filling.
Cons: While durable, gold metal fillings can cost 10 times as much as their silver counterparts. Also, if not done properly, metal fillings can come out while you chew gum or consume other sticky candies – causing an unpleasant experience.
Ceramic cavity fillings are usually made out of porcelain and look similar to the color of your other teeth. They fill in the gaps in your tooth, similar to how a metal filling would, but they aren’t as noticeable.
Pros: Ceramic fillers are tooth-colored, making them less noticeable. They can last more than 15 years, making them one of the longest-lasting filler solutions. They also resist staining better than composites.
Cons: Ceramic can cost as much as gold fillers, making them one of the most expensive dental filling solutions. It’s more brittle than composites, which means it needs a larger area in the tooth to provide space for extra bulk.
Glass ionomer fillings are made with a blend of acrylic and glass and create a cavity that releases fluoride to help protect your teeth. The materials and construction of this type of filling make it less durable than the other types.
Pros: These fillings are great for children whose teeth are still changing. They release fluoride, which helps prevent further tooth decay. When placed in certain areas, they can last as long as composites.
Cons: Glass ionomer fillings are weaker than composites and often wear down over time. They can fracture and only last around five years or less. They cost about the same as composites but don’t color-match the tooth as accurately.
What to Expect for Filling a Dental Cavity
Depending on how many cavities you’re getting filled and the severity of them, it can take anywhere from an hour to several hours to finish the procedure. If needed, your dentist will order x-rays, so that you can see what will be repaired during the filling.
Once they’re ready to begin the procedure, they’ll numb your gums, tooth, and surrounding skin to help reduce any discomfort. Then, they’ll drill out the decay in the tooth and replace it with a filling. This process only takes a few minutes – depending on the amount of decay located on the tooth.
After the process is completed, they’ll clean up the tooth and area around it so that you don’t taste any grit and can bite down comfortably. You should expect your mouth to remain numb for a few more hours after the procedure, but you shouldn’t experience any discomfort after a filling. If you have mild to severe pain after a couple of days, call your dentist.
If you need help with your oral health, let us help you.
At North River Dental, we have over 30 years of experience in cosmetic dentistry. If you are experiencing tooth pain or sensitivity and think a cavity may be the culprit, let us help you.