Fillings: A guide to cavity treatment

Here is what you need to know about getting a cavity filled.

Fillings

Need a filling? You’re not alone. Ninety-two percent of adults have had at least one cavity by age 64, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. But if it’s your first time getting a cavity treated, here’s what to expect.

Overview of the procedure

Although the details of the procedure may vary by dental office, your appointment should begin with anesthesia. Your dentist or hygienist will numb the area around the affected tooth with a gel before injecting the topical anesthesia. Once the area is desensitized, the dentist will remove the decayed enamel with a high-speed drill or laser system. Then the hole will be shaped, allowing the tooth to hold the filling, which is usually composed of metal or plastic.

How to select a material

The substance of your filling depends on the size and location of the cavity, as well as financial considerations.

An amalgam filling is a stable mix of metals, including mercury, silver, tin and copper. Because of its silver color, amalgam fillings are typically used in parts of the mouth that are hard to see. These durable fillings are preferred for high-stress chewing areas, such as molar teeth, and are also a cost-friendly option.

For cavities in visible parts of the mouth, a composite resin filling is a popular choice, since the tooth-colored plastic material blends in easily.

Other options include gold and ceramic, which are more costly but extremely durable.

Restoration techniques

Types of fillings also depend on the extent of the decay. If the cavity is restricted to the inner grooves of the tooth, an inlay may be used. For cavities that cover the chewing surface of the tooth, including a cusp (pointy tip), an onlay is appropriate.

While such fillings are ideal for small cavities, larger areas of decay may require a crown, which covers the entire tooth. This strategy is a common way of repairing a broken or extremely weak tooth.

Be sure to discuss the options at your visit. Your dentist will be able to advise you on the best options for your needs and dental coverage.

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Last updated: June 2017

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