How Long do Fillings Last?

When we inform a patient that an existing filling needs replacement, we often hear questions like this.  Many people assume that fillings will last forever.  Unfortunately, that is not the case.  There are multiple factors affecting the lifespan of a filling, which we will discuss in this week’s blog.

What is a Filling?

First of all, let us explain exactly what a filling is.  Fillings are dental restorations that replace damaged tooth structure and rebuild the tooth to its natural shape and function.  The damage usually is the result of trauma (cracks) or decay (cavities).

The hard substances that make up our teeth (enamel and dentin) do not have the ability to repair themselves or heal from damage.  For this reason, your dentist must remove damaged tooth structure, which leaves a hole in the tooth, and rebuild, or fill in, the tooth with dental materials.

What Shortens a Filling’s Lifespan?

There are two situations that shorten a filling’s lifespan.  The first is deterioration of the filling material itself.  The second is the deterioration of the tooth structure surrounding the filling.  We’ll explain specific risk factors that lead to these types of deterioration under each.

Deterioration of the Filling

One reason that your dentist recommends replacement of fillings is that they show signs of deterioration within the filling material itself.  This can appear in the form of cracks, dark stains, or gaps developing between the filling and tooth.  These issues may be visible to the naked eye, or they may appear on a dental x-ray.

These signs of deterioration indicate weakness in the filling material.  Basically, they show that the material is no longer performing its job of sealing and protecting the tooth against infiltration by disease-causing bacteria.  This makes the tooth vulnerable to new decay and infection.

Deterioration of Surrounding Tooth Structure

Sometimes, the filling itself holds up well, but the surrounding tooth structure begins to deteriorate.  This can take the form of new decay, acid erosion, or cracks in the enamel.

Many people are surprised to learn that a tooth with a filling can get another cavity on it.  It is important to understand that a tooth with an existing filling is actually more likely to get a cavity than a tooth that has never had any dental work or decay.  The edge of any filling is a high-risk site for plaque collection, which makes it a high-risk site for new decay.

What Lengthens a Filling’s Lifespan?

We can help our fillings last longer by working diligently to preserve the health of our tooth structure, which will also protect the integrity of the filling itself.  Here are the most important steps you can take in lengthening the lifespan of your fillings and all of your dental work!

1. Consistently and effectively remove dental plaque.

Dental plaque accumulation at the edge of dental work is responsible for new cavities.  Your dental hygienist removes all of this bacterial buildup during a professional teeth cleaning.  You must also remove plaque on a daily basis by brushing and flossing with good techniques.  Great oral hygiene makes a huge difference in the lifespan of your dental work.

2. Fight acid erosion.

Many people lose enamel to acid erosion.  This process can occur as the result of GI problems like acid reflux or GERD.  It may also result from the acidic beverages we drink.  People with a dry mouth have a more acidic environment, placing their teeth at a higher risk for damage.  It is important to fight acid erosion by drinking plain or alkaline water, chewing sugar-free gum, and using oral care products with fluoride or other remineralizing agents.  You should avoid high sugar, low pH drinks, and eat a healthy balanced diet.

3. Protect against trauma.

Our teeth can undergo trauma from heavy forces of clenching and/or grinding during sleep.  This results in either tooth cracks or a gradual wearing down of the enamel known as attrition.  If you clench or grind your teeth, there will be visible signs inside your mouth that your dentist can identify.  You can protect your teeth from the damage of grinding by wearing a professional nightguard while you sleep.  This will lengthen the lifespan of all of your dental work.

More Questions about Fillings?

Call Timberlake Dental at 940-382-1750 to schedule a consultation with Dr. Chowning.  He can answer all of your questions about fillings and evaluate your existing fillings to help you understand any warning signs of problems and their potential lifespan.

Tags: , , , , , ,