If you’ve been told you have a cavity, you might be wondering what to expect. A filling is actually a very routine dental procedure that almost everyone will need to get at some point in their lives. So let’s talk about the process of getting a filling and what to expect afterwards.

Choosing a Dental Filling

One of the first things we do with patients is to help them choose an appropriate filling. There are two types of fillings available:

  • Silver amalgam is a traditional type of filling made of a mixture of mercury, silver, tin, and copper. It has been used in dentistry for more than 100 years because it lasts a long time. It is often called a “silver-colored” filling because of the way it looks, and it is also the best choice for cavities below the gum line or on the back teeth (where there is a lot of force from chewing).
  • Composite resin is sometimes preferred by patients because it is tooth-colored and therefore almost invisible. These days composite resin is actually used more often than silver amalgam. While it is a wonderful cosmetic choice, it can only be used for small- to medium-sized fillings and insurance policies don’t always cover the cost.

Many people have concerns about the mercury content in silver amalgam fillings. However because the mercury is combined with other metals, it becomes a very stable and safe material that poses no health risk to patients.

Coping with Anxiety

Dental anxiety is a very common affliction that affects approximately 80 percent of Americans. If you are nervous about getting a filling, make sure to ask about sedation dentistry. Some of the options include:

  • Laughing gas (nitrous oxide)
  • Oral sedation (pills)
  • IV sedation (for extremely fearful patients)

You and your dentist can work together to find the most appropriate option for you before your filling appointment.

Getting a Filling

The process of getting a filling is actually very simple. It is done in three steps:

  1. Numb the tooth – the dentist will numb your teeth, gums and surrounding tissues by injecting a local anesthetic.
  2. Remove decay and bacteria – the dentist will remove all decay using a tool like a drill or laser, and then completely clean the area of all bacteria and debris.
  3. Place the filling – the dentist will place the appropriate filling in the tooth and allow it to harden.

Composite resin fillings must be placed in layers and cured with a special light at each step of the layering process, so this type of filling does take a little longer to place. Once the layers are complete, the dentist will also need to trim off any excess material and polish the filling to finish the procedure.

After the Procedure

Once the filling has been placed, the tooth becomes fully functional and should not need further treatment for a long time (unless a second cavity develops). However your lips, gums, cheeks, and tongue may remain numb for a few hours after the procedure. So to prevent injury, make sure to avoid eating during this time and be careful not to accidentally chew on your lip or cheek.

The filled tooth may also be sensitive to heat and cold for a few days or weeks. If this occurs, make sure to talk to your dentist about ways to minimize discomfort. This type of sensitivity is always treatable.

The Life of a Filling

Over time (usually many years or decades) the filling may wear out or crack and need to be replaced. Your dentist will be able to monitor the condition of all of your fillings during your normal cleanings and check-ups, so make sure to keep your six month appointments!

It is worth noting that some studies indicate composite resin may be less durable and may need to be replaced more often than silver amalgam. So keep this in mind when thinking about how long your particular filling will last.

Written by: Dr. Yahya Mansour