The days when a filling meant shiny dark spots left on the teeth due to metal amalgam fillings is past. Today, modern dentistry offers patients a number of tooth-colored filling materials to choose from, including dental porcelain and composite resins. These new restorations are both affordable and safe, offering a more natural looking filling option for most patients.
Anatomy of a tooth
It may surprise you to know that your tooth actually has several parts. On the outside of the tooth is the enamel, which is made up of closely knit calcium crystals. There is no living tissue in the enamel. When this area of the tooth needs repair or replacing, a dental porcelain is usually used to mimic the natural tooth enamel.
Dentin is the inner portion of your tooth. Like bone, dentin is porous and made up of living tissue. Tiny tubes of collagen mix with calcium crystal to form this inner chamber, and it is very sensitive to irritation or infection. Fillings for this portion of the tooth are usually made from a dental composite that is made from a combination or plastic resin and silica filler.
Advantages of tooth-colored fillings
Tooth-colored fillings have one main advantage over metal amalgam fillings in addition to their more natural appearance. They can bond with the teeth; metal amalgams simply rest on top of the tooth. This makes the more prone to becoming loosened or damaged. At times, they may even simply fall out. They offer far less protection from tooth decay that the newer filling materials.
Amalgam fillings focused on reinforcing the teeth in order to make them stronger. Today, dentists prefer to take a more natural approach, using filling materials that mimic the structure and appearance of teeth. Porcelain and composite fillings are designed to recreate the lost portion of the tooth, instead of simply filling the hole.
Types of fillings
While in the past, fillings were intended to be a sort of patch, today several procedures may be sued based on how extensively the tooth has become decayed.
- A dental composite material may be layered in order to fill smaller cavities, allowing the dentist to restore your tooth to its natural and original shape. Unlike the older metal fillings, no healthy tooth matter needs to be removed for this process, making it the preferred choice for most dentists and patients.
- For slightly larger cavities, a small amount of composite resin will be placed into the cavity and bonded to the tooth in order to prevent further decay. This composite is hardened immediately using a special ultraviolet curing light. This means that the filling will be completely hardened before you leave our office.
- When a larger area of the tooth as been decayed, a semi-direct approach is used. The dental composite will be applied to the cavity in layers. This restoration can be removed when necessary, and will be hardened outside of the mouth. Once solid, the filling will then be bonded to the tooth using a dental adhesive. Like porcelain restorations, this type of filling can be created using a technology known as Computer Assisted Design.
- An indirect filling is used when the tooth requires a very large restoration. In most cases, this means that there is very little healthy tooth matter left. These dental inlays or onlays will be made of dental porcelain in a laboratory, and will require more than one appointment to place. A temporary filling will be put in place while the permanent restoration is created in order to protect the tooth in the meantime.
If you have reason to suspect that you may have developed a cavity in one of your teeth, it is important that you contact our office right away for treatment. Failing to do so may result in further tooth decay, and leaves you vulnerable to infection. Left untreated, this can spread into your gums or even into the jaw bone that supports your teeth. Treating the cavity quickly avoids more costly restorations and prevents you from experiencing further pain.