What is tooth decay and how can fillings help?
Tooth decay is caused by acids from the bacteria and can form holes (cavity) in the teeth. This bacteria is called plaque and it forms a thin film on the surface of your teeth. Over time, this acid erodes the hard, outer shell of teeth called the enamel. Once the enamel is gone, teeth starts to decay because the other layers are much softer than enamel.
Dental caries is the continuous process that can take many years before a cavity is formed. Cavity is formed when the enamel is no longer there to protect the softer layers of the tooth and forms a hole in the tooth. Once the decay reaches the pulp, it starts to hurt because the pulp has nerves in it that sends pain signals to the brain. This is what happens when you have a toothache.
Fillings are placed into teeth because of the tooth decay to replace the missing tooth structure. This also acts to cover up and protect the other layers of teeth and prevent further damage. There are a few different types of fillings in the market, namely:
- Gold fillings: These are made to order in the laboratories and cemented into place. Gold inlays are less damaging to gum tissues, and can last more than 20 years. It’s for this reason that many experts regard gold fillings as the best type of filling, but they are also the most expensive option.
- Silver (amalgam) fillings: These are very resistant and inexpensive, but due to their dark colour, they’re not suitable for front teeth. The mercury present in the fillings have also raised safety concerns recently since mercury is known to be toxic.
- Composite (plastic) resins: These match the color of your teeth and are therefore considered to be more aesthetic. The filling is applied directly to the tooth and it hardens over time. They are not the best option for larger cavities since they chip and wear out over time. They do not last as long as the other fillings, mostly 3-5years only.
- Porcelain fillings: Like the gold fillings, they are made to order in the lab, and placed on the tooth. They generally cover most of the tooth. The cost is similar to gold fillings.
What happens when you need a filling done?
The dentist will first remove the decay from the tooth, and afterwards the cleaned-out cavity will be filled with any of the materials mentioned above. The dentist will check for anything that’s not normal with your teeth and will use special instruments to confirm the damage. They might even use x-rays to really see the extent of the decay and damage.
The type of treatment recommended by the dentist will depend on the extent of the damage caused by the decay.