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Why do I need a filling?

Fillings are treatment for dental decay. When your tooth is decayed, you have a hole inside the tooth which is full of bacteria. This area needs to be cleaned out and filled with a material which stops food from getting in. This in turn stops the decay and restores normal form and function to your tooth.

You may not necessarily have pain to need a filling as early decay are usually painless. Your dentist can detect decay when you attend your regular check-up appointments. If the decay is left until pain starts, you might need more treatment than just a filling.

What types of fillings are available?

The white filling, or composite, is the most common filling material on the market now. It is made of resin and sticks to teeth. It matches the colour of the tooth, and has very good durability and wear resistance, hence is widely used for fillings in most teeth.

A silver filling, or an amalgam, is a mercury based filling and is very popular in the last few decades. It is slowly being replaced as composites rose to the scene.

A temporary filling is offered in some cases, perhaps to wait for an inflamed tooth to settle, or as a temporary measure during ongoing treatment. They are not permanent solutions and typically only last up to 6 months.

Is a composite (white filling) better than an amalgam (silver filling)?

With the advancement in composite technologies, composite has become a very good choice for a filling material. Its main advantage is that it can stick to teeth. This means that the dentist can be minimal with the removal of healthy tooth tissue when placing a composite. Whereas when placing an amalgam that doesn’t adhere to teeth, the tooth has to be altered in a certain way to “lock” the filling in, inevitably sacrificing some healthy tooth tissue.

The composite is also more aesthetically pleasing, being available in different colours to match our natural teeth.

However, amalgam is still available for a reason. Composites do not stick in the presence of water, limiting its use in certain situations. In the mouth where it cannot be completely dried, for example under the gum, or far back, an amalgam filling still works better than a composite.

Your dentist would always recommend the most appropriate material for each situation

I have some amalgam fillings, do I need to replace them?

The main concern people might have about amalgam fillings is that they contain mercury. Rest assured the mercury in the amalgam filling is completely locked away and would not affect your health in any way. In fact, it is during the removal of amalgams that you can be exposed to the vapours which may contain trace amounts of amalgam. The level of mercury in amalgam fillings is tested and safe for use, similar to that of eating one or two pieces of salmon. If your only worry is the mercury, then it is perfectly fine not to replace those amalgam fillings.

However, your dentist may advise you replace your old amalgam fillings if there is decay underneath, or if the tooth has chipped. If the amalgam filling is not very aesthetically pleasing to you, you can also speak to your dentist to get it changed.

Do fillings last forever?

Unfortunately in dentistry, nothing can be promised to last forever. With proper placement and care, a composite filling has a good chance of lasting more than 10 years.

With time, problems can develop which warrant a new filling. You may get decay underneath the current filling, the tooth might chip, or the filling might fall out. These are all circumstances which cannot be foreseen.

But not to worry, given a skilled dentist and good care at home, the chances of these issues happening is low.

Are fillings painful?

Not at all! Like any other treatments, if you dentist anticipate pain, he/she will give you some local anaesthetic to numb up the tooth before starting, which makes it pain-free throughout the procedure.

I’m having pain after my filling, is that normal?

With composite fillings, it is normal to have some sensitivity for 3-5 days after the procedure. You can take some painkillers to help with the sensitive sensation. If the sensitivity doesn’t settle after a week, contact your dentist.

For any filling, if you’re getting a dull, throbbing ache in the area, or pain on biting, it might mean that your nerves are inflamed. This is usually a result from the previous decay in the tooth which warranted the filling. You should contact your dentist and your dentist arrange an appointment at the earliest time to review your tooth for you.

In summary

All in all, fillings are a simple, commonplace procedure which is done on a daily basis by any dentist. The procedure is fairly quick, usually taking not more than half an hour for each. You can return to your daily routine and eat and drink as per normal as soon as you leave the dental surgery.

Regular visits to the dentist for check-ups allows early detection of decay. Treatment of decay with fillings ensures that the tooth is restored to normal form and function before the decay progresses on to warrant more complex treatments.

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About the Author

“Positive experiences in the dental setting goes a long way. I aim to provide quality dental care tailored to every patient’s individual needs.”

Dr Li Kexin

Dental Surgeon, NoFrills Dental

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