Fillings are a common dental procedure, used to correct cavities. Many of us may have some vague memory of getting a filling during childhood, while others of us may not need our first filling until well into adulthood. Despite how common they are, however, there are some misunderstandings as to what cavities are, how dentists treat them, and what exactly happens during a filling. By learning a bit more about all of this, you’ll be better prepared should you need a filling of your own or should you have to explain a filling to one of your little ones.

Cavities and Fillings

Fillings are most commonly used to correct cavities. Dental cavities–also known as dental caries–occur when bacteria in the mouth build-up to the point that they can wear a hole in the protective enamel outer layer of the tooth. If this hole reaches the soft inner pulp of the tooth, it can lead to permanent damage or tooth loss. Even smaller cavities may be painful. It’s important to know the most common symptoms of a dental cavity:

  • Toothache, spontaneous pain or pain that occurs without any apparent cause
  • Tooth sensitivity or mild to sharp pain when eating or drinking something sweet, hot, or cold
  • Visible holes or pits in the teeth
  • Brown, black or white staining on any surface of a tooth, particularly combined with pitting or a hole in the tooth
  • Pain when you bite down with either chewing, speaking, or clenching the jaw

If you experience any of these symptoms persistently, contact your dentist as you may need treatment for a cavity or other dental condition.

Treating Cavities with Fillings

So what happens during a filling? The good news is that most fillings are accomplished with minimal discomfort to the patient. Fillings are routine procedures, all dentists are experienced in them, and they’re quite safe.

The general approach to a filling goes like this. After an exam and x-rays to determine the nature of the cavity and the best approach to filling it, your dentist will dry the area around the tooth to be filled to keep saliva out of the way during the process. Then your dentist will numb the area, either with an injection, the application of a numbing gel, or both. Once that anesthetic has taken effect, the real work begins. Your dentist will use a series of high-powered dental drills to remove the damaged portion of the tooth. You may feel some sensation during this process, but it generally doesn’t hurt. Once the damaged portion of the tooth has been removed, your dentist will apply the filling itself–the actual filling material to replace the damaged portion of your tooth. This may be a metal amalgam, a ceramic bonding material, or a polymer substance depending on the nature of the damage; your dentist can explain which one is right for you. Once the filling is installed and set, you’ll be ready to go. Your dentist will likely instruct you to avoid eating or chewing until the anesthetic wears off in order to avoid accidentally biting your cheek or tongue, but other than that your filling should function regularly as soon as treatment is complete.

A good filling will last for years, if not a lifetime. They require all the same care that your natural teeth do: regular brushing and cleanings and trips to the dentist for exams and cleanings. If you suspect you need a filling, the important thing is to avoid delay. Get in touch today and schedule an exam. We’ll assess your needs and suggest the best course of treatment, which may include a filling. The longer you delay the greater the risk of serious damage or tooth loss.