You’ve just gone for your six-month dentist appointment and despite your best efforts to increase your dental hygiene, you hear those dreaded three words: You have a cavity. It’s not surprising, and if this is your first cavity, don’t take it too hard. Over 90% of adults in the United States have at least one cavity that needs filling. Some people get them while they’re still young, and some won’t get their first cavity until later in adulthood. Dentists fill cavities every day, and the filling procedure is pretty straightforward. You do have some choices in the type of filling you get, but for the most part, filling a cavity is the same for everyone.

What is a Cavity Filling?

A cavity forms when tooth decay causes a hole or channel to form in the tooth’s enamel surface. If the cavity is deep enough, it can cause pain because food and beverages can travel down the hole and stimulate the tooth root. In order to stop the pain and save the tooth from becoming compromised, your dentist needs to drill out all of the bacteria and decay and fill the tooth with a filling. A filling is used to describe the material that a dentist uses to fill the hole and repair the cavity.

Types of Cavity Fillings

There are five types of fillings your dentist may recommend to repair your cavity.

Amalgam Filling

Silver Amalgam Fillings have been around for more than a hundred years. You probably know this filling as your traditional silver filling, and they’ve been popular for a very long time because of how strong they are. It is still a popular filling used for cavities located in the back of the mouth, such as in the molars, where the majority of your chewing takes place. Silver Amalgam fillings are not made entirely of silver but from a combination of several metallic elements. They are the least expensive dental filling and last anywhere from 5 – 25 years.

Composite Filling

These dental fillings are also known as composites or filled resins and are made from a composite material made of glass and/or quartz filler. Composite resin fillings are popular because they can be colored to match the rest of your teeth. The main drawback of composite fillings is their lack of strength. It’s not a great choice for teeth that take the greatest chewing pressure, but they are popular for use in the front teeth because of the ability to be made tooth-colored. Most composite fillings will last between 5 – 10 years.

Gold Filling

If you want to get the strongest dental filling you can buy, go for the gold. Gold fillings are not made of pure gold, but of a blend of metals that do not corrode, making them incredibly strong and durable. Even though some people prefer the color of these fillings to amalgam fillings, the cost often makes it prohibitive. While they often last more than 20 – 25 years, you can expect to pay more than six to ten times more for a gold filling than a silver one.

Ceramic Filling

Ceramic fillings are usually made from porcelain, are tooth-colored, and known for being stain resistant. They are fairly strong, lasting for around 15 years, but again, they are expensive. Ceramic fillings are known to cost as much as gold.

Glass Ionomer Filling

Glass Ionomer fillings are made from a composite material of acrylic and glass. Think of this type of filling as a type of cement, as they are perfect if the tooth decay reaches deep into the tooth root. Glass Ionomer fillings also release fluoride to help protect the teeth from further decay. These fillings are weaker than composite resin, lasting only around 5 years.

What is the procedure for filling a cavity?

Knowing what to expect when getting treatment for cavities can help quell any anxiety you may have over the procedure. Rest assured that your dentist does multiple fillings every day. Having a cavity filled takes approximately one hour and can be done right inside your dentist’s office. Once you are settled into the dentist’s chair, your dentist will numb your tooth with a local anesthetic. The needle looks quite large, but you only feel a pinch as the anesthetic goes into your gums. Once your mouth is numb, the dentist will take his or her drill and remove the decayed area. The drill emits a high-pitched noise but you should not feel any pain. Next, the cavity filling is put into place and cured by whatever method is applicable based on the type of filling used. The drilling and cavity filling only takes a few minutes. And that’s all there is to it!

Taking Care of a Cavity Filling

Once you have your cavity filled, you can expect to feel some discomfort afterward, or the tooth may become sensitive to hot, cold, or sweet things. This is temporary and should go away after a bit of time has passed. In the meantime, brushing with a toothpaste formulated for sensitive teeth can help. Oral care for a filling is pretty much the same as your normal oral hygiene routine. It’s important to make sure that bacteria does not grow underneath the filling, so make sure you are brushing twice a day and floss regularly as well.

When to Replace a Cavity Filling

As you can see from the sections above, fillings are not meant to last forever. Depending on the type of material, fillings protect your teeth for anywhere between 5 – 25 years. Your teeth absorb a lot of pressure from chewing, and even more if you tend to clench or grind your teeth. If you notice any changes to a dental filling, call your dentist for an appointment right away to have it replaced. Continuing to chew on a filling that is showing damage can cause further problems, such as advanced tooth decay or permanent loss of the tooth.

Save That Tooth!

As with most things, the best treatment is prevention, and cavities are no different. Be sure to follow a good oral health routine by brushing morning and night, and flossing once per day. Also, making an appointment with your dentist every six months allows them to catch damaged areas early, before they grow into a larger problem. And sometimes, no matter what you do, getting a cavity happens. If that’s the case, don’t worry. You have a multitude of materials and metals to choose from to repair the damage!

If you’re looking for a new dentist, we have offices in greater Minnesota and around the Twin Cities. Schedule your appointment today at one of our locations!

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