Fillings are needed when bacteria in your mouth creates a strong acid that eats away at your teeth. This bacteria, also known as plaque, can sometimes cause a hole to form in your tooth, leading to dental cavities and tooth decay. Other parts of our body heal after an injury, but this isn’t the case with our teeth. Instead, you will need to have the hole in your tooth filled by a hard substance that mimics your tooth’s material, and this is called a filling.
Fillings can also be called tooth restoration, because the procedure is essentially restoring your tooth to its former glory.
Different types of fillings
There are two main types of filling materials, called amalgam and composite resin. Amalgam is a filling that uses a mix of silver, tin, copper, zinc, and mercury to create the filling. These are metallic or silver in colour.
Composite resin is tooth coloured and is created by using little elements of silica and plastic resin. They are known as direct veneers.
Amalgam fillings have a long history, as they were first used in dentistry more than 180 years ago. The metals used for the filling are soft at first, but once placed in the hole, they begin to harden. This hardening means the mercury is not poisonous for the patient once the filling is complete.
Composite fillings are more modern than amalgam fillings and have only recently been developed. Using composite resin, this type of filling is similar to modelling clay when moulding it into the tooth’s hole. Once the resin is in place, a bright blue light is shone on to the putty, sparking a chemical reaction. This reaction hardens the resin and makes it look very similar in colour and consistency to a regular tooth.
The filling procedure
When you receive a filling, normally you will be put under local anaesthetic to numb your mouth. Using a drill or a laser, the dentist will remove the decay from your tooth before shaping a space within your tooth where they will place the filling. The hole’s shape will depend on the type of filling you are receiving.
Next the dentist will place the filling in its hole, before using a bonding substance to ensure it stays in place and doesn’t leak. The dentist will then either shine a light on to your filling or wait for it to harden. Your dentist will then finish the procedure by polishing your tooth. Your tooth may be sensitive for a while after the procedure but it should soon return to normal.
How to choose your filling type
If you don’t know whether to choose between an amalgam filling and a composite filling, here are some things to consider:
- Amalgam fillings generally last longer because they are stronger
- Composite fillings will probably cost you more than amalgam fillings
- Amalgam fillings are much more noticeable than composite fillings
- Amalgam fillings have mercury in them, although they shouldn’t pose any health effects unless you are allergic to mercury
- Composite fillings can sometimes leak bisphenol-A, which is known to be dangerous in large doses
- To install an amalgam filling, dentists generally have to make a larger hole than they would for composite fillings
- Composite fillings require more skill to implant.