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What are Dental Fillings?

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Dental fillings are artificial substances that are used to fill in the holes or gaps in the enamel of decayed, broken or damaged teeth.

Uses of dental filling

Dental fillings are needed to restore the shape and stability of the tooth for ease of chewing and preventing further damage, decay and loss of the tooth. Dental fillings may be used in cases of:

  • Tooth decay, to fill holes that have formed in the enamel but have not affected the inner pulp of the teeth where the blood vessels and nerves are contained
  • Injured or broken teeth where enamel has chipped off potentially exposing the tooth to decay
  • To restore worn out or eroded teeth

Procedure of dental filing

Before a filling is performed, the dentist numbs the gums around the affected tooth using an injection of local anesthetic. Once the area is numbed, the affected tooth is inspected. Filling is determined based on the amount of tooth decay or damage. If tooth decay is present, the affected areas of the teeth are removed and the tooth is cleaned, washed and dried. Filling material is then inserted where the affected area was and the original shape of the tooth is restored. A patient is then asked to bite hard to see if the filling feels comfortable.

Risks and complications of using a dental filling

  • For the initial few days after a filling, there may be tingling or pain in the affected tooth while chewing, especially if food is hot or cold
  • Some patients may be allergic to the filling material and may develop itching and rashes
  • Sometimes, insertion of the filling can cause damage to the nerves within the tooth
  • There is a small risk of infection at the site of injection or filling

Types of dental fillings

There is a wide range of fillings that are available. Some of these include:

  • Tooth or white colored fillings or composite resin - These are a mixture of powdered glass and plastic resin and also referred to as white, plastic, or tooth-colored fillings. Such fillings usually fill the top of the teeth and look much like the original tooth material they are replacing. They also release small amounts of fluoride that may help reduce the risk of further tooth decay.
  • Silver fillings or silver amalgam - This is one of the most widely used dental fillings. These fillings are made up of a mixture of silver alloy and mercury and are more durable than other types of filling. Both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Dental Federation approves the use of silver amalgam for their durability and safety.
  • Glass ionomer cement - This is a self-hardening mixture of glass and organic acid and is tooth coloured. This material is used for small filings, for cementing porcelain or metal crowns and in temporary restorations.
  • Resin ionomer cement - This is a mixture of glass and resin polymer and organic acid that solidifies on exposure to blue light. This is also colored like the tooth.
  • Porcelain may also be a temporary filling agent
  • Nickel or cobalt-chrome alloys contain both nickel and chromium and are silver colored. They are also used as a dental cement for fixing crowns.
  • Gold alloys containing a mixture of gold, copper, and other metals are used for crowns and partial dentures. These are very durable but can be expensive and may also lead to increased sensitivity of the tooth.
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