Think back on your childhood visits to the dentist, and chances are the first thing that pops into your head isn’t a prize you got to choose when you had a great checkup, but instead was the first time you needed a filling.
Dental fillings are one of the most common services your dentist performs. Although nearly everyone needs at least one filling in their lifetime, how much do you really know about the procedure?
Here, our own Dr. Meriem Boukadoum at 54th Street Dental explains what fillings are and why they’re important to your oral health.
Why fillings matter
A dental filling is a restoration procedure not only to treat cavities, but also to repair damaged, broken or cracked teeth. Specifically, a dental filling restores the tooth’s shape to make it whole, healthy, and strong again so it can perform its important function in biting or chewing.
Untreated cavities will further breach the dental enamel and not only threaten the viability of the tooth, making it untreatable and requiring an extraction, but also may cause an infection that can spread to other parts of the body.
Similarly, untreated damaged or broken teeth eventually get to the point where damage can’t be repaired, and your dentist needs to remove it.
Simple restorative procedure
Fortunately, tooth loss due to untreatable tooth damage or severe decay need not happen. A dental filling is a fairly straightforward process that typically takes place in one visit.
Dr. Boukadoum gives you a local anesthetic to numb the area to keep you comfortable during the procedure. Next, she prepares the treatment area. She uses the most efficient cutting tool — such as an abrasion instrument, laser, drill — to cut through the enamel to remove any decay.
The next step is to clean the cavity of any lingering bacteria or debris. If the decay is close to the tooth’s root, Dr. Boukadoum may insert a liner made of glass ionomer or composite resin to protect the tooth’s pulp layer where the nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissue live.
She completes the process by placing the filling material inside and cleaning and polishing the tooth.
While the filling procedure plays out fairly routinely, you do have choices of what kind of filling material we use. Although each will accomplish the task, they vary by appearance, price, and durability.
Amalgam or silver fillings
Silver fillings, also called amalgam fillings, at one time were the go-to for fillings. They can last 10 to 15 years, and they’re relatively affordable in comparison to other options, so they’re a great option when you’re looking for value.
The downside is that they aren’t as aesthetically pleasing as other materials, and amalgams may create cracks and fractures since they’re more vulnerable to tooth expansion and contraction.
Color-matched composite fillings
Patients who want a less obvious restoration that will blend in with neighboring teeth may be interested in tooth-colored composite fillings. This choice has a second advantage as well; it’s more of a bonding process that actually strengthens and supports the structure of the tooth.
In this scenario, the filling process is bonded in layers. After Dr. Boukadoum removes the decayed part of the tooth, she applies the first layer of the tooth-colored material and uses a special dental light to cure or harden the layer. She repeats this layering and curing until the appropriate amount of filling is completed.
She then completes the procedure by molding and shaping the material so it looks and functions like your natural tooth once did.
Gold fillings are historically the oldest type of filling material, as well as the most expensive. Gold fillings don’t easily corrode and can last longer than 15 years. The process to get gold fillings generally takes multiple appointments to complete.
Ceramic or porcelain fillings cost about the same as gold fillings and last at least as long as them, too. Patients who have issues with tooth staining may be interested in porcelain fillings because they’re much more stain resistant than composite fillings.
If you need a filling and want to know what type is right for you, contact us today by using the online booking tool to request an appointment, or call our office in the Midtown West neighborhood of New York City at 212-333-3200.