Dental Visits Decoded: Fillings

Need a filling? You’re not alone. Ninety-two percent of adults have had at least one cavity by the time they’re 64 years old, which means that most people have experienced a filling or two before.1 Here’s what you can expect when you go to the dentist to get your cavity treated.

Your dentist or hygienist will numb the area with a gel, a shot or both. Once you’re feeling no pain, your dentist will clean away the decayed enamel with a high-speed drill or laser system. After the decay has been removed, the hole will be shaped to support the filling.

The material your tooth is filled with depends on the size and location of the cavity and your financial needs. An amalgam (silver) filling is a stable mix of metals, including mercury, silver, tin, copper and other elements. Because it’s silver-colored, amalgam is typically used in places that won’t be seen by most people. It’s also less expensive than a composite filling. A composite filling is a resin plastic tooth-colored material that blends in well with natural teeth, making it a better fit for cavities in visible places. For larger cavities in high stress chewing areas, like molar teeth, it may not be the best option.

The type of filling you get also depends on the severity of your cavity. Because it covers the entire tooth, a crown is ideal for a larger cavity and is most often used to repair a broken or extremely weak tooth. If your cavity is smaller, an amalgam or composite will work well. Some dentists may also suggest gold or ceramic inlays or onlays. These are more costly but very durable options. An inlay fits into the contours of your tooth, while an onlay usually covers most of the tooth’s chewing surfaces, but not all of the sides.

Be sure to discuss the options with your dentist. He or she will be able to provide advice on what your dental benefits plan covers and what will work best for your individual needs.

Note: Procedure descriptions cover what is typically involved in a procedure; actual method may vary by dental office.

1 http://www.nidcr.nih.gov/DataStatistics/FindDataByTopic/DentalCaries/ DentalCariesAdults20to64.htm


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