How Do Fillings Work?

Many people are familiar with the terms “cavity” and “filling” without really understanding the process.  Here is what you need to know when your dentist tells you that you need a filling.

What is a Cavity?

A cavity is a bacterial infection of the hard structures of a tooth.  The bacteria in dental plaque eat sugar and produce strong acid, which weakens and softens tooth enamel.  As the bacteria work their way into the tooth, they continue weakening and softening as they go.  Technically, we call this dental caries, and “cavity” is the common term we use.  The reason it got the name “cavity” is that over time, an actual hole or “cavity” develops in the tooth.

Why Do Cavities Need Fillings?

The bacterial infection of a tooth is progressive.  Once the bacteria penetrates through the enamel, it continues moving inward to the center of the tooth, where the nerve and blood supply resides.  The first step is stopping this progression.  In the past, the only way to stop this bacterial movement was to remove the tooth structure containing the bacteria (by drilling it away).

We actually do have new dental materials that will stop the progression of decay without drilling!  The problem is that stopping the decay is only the first step in the process.  Whether you stop the decay with a drill or a new material like SDF, the decayed tooth structure is not fit for function.  It must be replaced.

A filling is a dental material that rebuilds and replaces decayed tooth structure.  Remember that the cavity process involves softening and weakening of hard tooth structure.  This softened, weakened enamel and dentin can no longer support natural chewing forces and keep food from packing in between teeth.  We must restore the tooth back to its natural form and function.  That’s the job for a filling!

How Does the Filling Stay in the Tooth?

There are many different types of filling material, and the one most commonly used in the US today is composite resin.  This is the tooth-colored filling material that is capable of bonding with enamel and dentin.  With older materials like mercury-containing amalgams, the dentist had to use the drill to create undercuts that would hold the filling in place.  With composite material, this is unnecessary.  The composite resin has an adhesive bond with natural tooth structure that holds it in place.

How Do I Take Care of a Filling?

One of the most dangerous myths that many people believe is that a tooth cannot get another cavity after having a filling.  In fact, the opposite is true: a tooth with a filling has a higher risk for new decay than a tooth without a filling.  You should actually be more vigilant about caring for your teeth with fillings and other dental work like crowns and bridges than those without.

Anything that is not natural tooth structure has a higher risk for plaque accumulation.  As plaque builds up at the edge of a filling or crown, a new cavity is imminent.  Your job to maintain the health of a filling is to remove plaque on a daily basis.

Many fillings extend between the teeth.  (Usually these cavities developed from a lack of flossing in the first place . . .)  Fillings that rebuild the tooth structure adjacent to another tooth require great, consistent flossing for maintenance.

If you have a significant amount of fillings and other dental work, you should also add a mouthwash containing fluoride.  This will help strengthen your enamel and fight new cavities.

More Questions about Fillings?

Call Timberlake Dental at 940-382-1750 to schedule a consultation with Dr. Chowning.  He can assess your current situation and answer any questions you have about fillings.

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