Filling in the gaps
Filling in the gaps
Our friends at smile.com.au are filling you in on the ‘ins and outs’ of dental fillings
Dental fillings may seem simple but there are still a few details you’ll want to know to make sure you’re looking after your smile in the best way possible.
Remember that Australian Unity partners with smile.com.au dentists to give members with dental cover at least 15% off the cost of treatment. You can find your closest smile.com.au dentist here.
About Dental Fillings
A dental filling (also called a 'dental restoration') is intended to replace tooth structure that has been lost to decay. Dental fillings may last many years, however, eventually all fillings need to be replaced. Constant assault from eating and drinking, or stress from clenching or grinding, may eventually cause a dental filling to fail.
Fillings and Bacteria
Fillings aren’t meant to last forever, so fillings that have worn away, chipped, cracked or fallen out may leave gaps between the tooth and the filling that can provide an entry point for bacteria. Bacteria, which are abundant in the mouth, are a major cause for tooth decay and are commonly found in saliva and dental plaque (a thin film that forms on teeth and gums).
If the seal between the tooth and the filling breaks down, food particles and decay causing bacteria can work their way between the worn filling and the tooth. Unfortunately, these bacteria are too tough to be removed with a toothbrush or other common means and decay may develop along the edge of the filling or even underneath it. If left undiagnosed and untreated, decay can progress to more serious dental procedures beyond a simple filling replacement. If the dental pulp, which contains the tooth’s nerve and blood supply, becomes infected, it can commonly result in the need for root canal (endodontic) treatment or possibly the loss of the tooth. Nobody wants that!
Fillings and Dental Visits
So how can you make sure your fillings are up to scratch? Regular dental check-ups are important because, generally, problems with existing fillings can be treated effectively if they are detected in the early stages. Although you may not be able to tell that your filling is worn, dentists can identify any weaknesses during a regular check-up.
During the check-up, your dentist will examine your existing fillings and assess if they are intact or whether any have cracked or worn away. They can use an instrument called an explorer to gently detect any worn spots, which helps them determine if the dental filling is sealed to the tooth or if it is worn to the point of needing replacement. For a more in depth view, your dentist may suggest a dental radiograph (x-ray), which can detect decay under existing dental fillings or between teeth.
If your dentist finds evidence that a filling has failed or finds decay on the x-ray, the dental filling should be replaced promptly. Don't wait until the tooth hurts or a crack appears in the filling of the tooth. Early detection and treatment can minimise the need for extensive and costly procedures. As the saying goes, prevention is better than the cure, so make sure your half yearly dental check-ups are booked in.
Choices for New Fillings
Want a more nature looking smile? The great news is with advances in dental materials and techniques there are new ways to create a smile you’ll be proud to show off. There are several types of tooth-coloured materials that can be used to repair damaged or decayed teeth.
Several factors influence the performance, durability, longevity and expense of dental fillings. These factors include the components in the filling material; where and how the filling is placed; the chewing load that the tooth must bear; and the length and number of visits needed to prepare and adjust the restored tooth.
Below are some examples of dental filling materials:
Amalgam is composed of a mixture of silver, copper, tin and mercury, all of which combine to form a strong and stable filling material. It is durable, easy to use, highly resistant to wear and relatively inexpensive compared with other materials.
Composite fillings are a mixture of acrylic resin and finely ground glasslike particles that produce a tooth-coloured restoration. Composite fillings provide durability and resistance to fractures in small-to-mid-sized restorations that need to withstand moderate chewing pressure.
Glass ionomers are tooth-coloured materials made of a mixture of fine fluoride-containing glass powder and organic acid that forms a solid restoration able to release fluoride.
Talk with your Dentist
Ultimately, the decision about what material to use for your filling is best decided between yourself and your dentist while in a consultation.
Why not visit a smile.com.au dentist for your next check-up and talk to an expert about your oral hygiene? Australian Unity members with dental cover will enjoy at least 15% off the cost of treatment. Find your closest smile.com.au dentist here.
Information provided in this article is not medical advice and you should consult with your healthcare practitioner. Australian Unity accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of any of the opinions, advice, representations or information contained in this publication. Readers should rely on their own advice and enquiries in making decisions affecting their own health, wellbeing or interest.