If your dentist has diagnosed you with tooth decay, there is absolutely no reason to be embarrassed as more than 90% of Australians have also experienced decay in their permanent teeth. Poor oral health habits start early with 3 out of 4 children consuming too much sugar in their diets, and barely half of the adult population brushing their teeth twice a day.
Taking care of your teeth is crucial to your overall health, as there are links between oral health and heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. Smoking and other bad habits exacerbate already compromised dental health for adults, so it's important to maintain a great oral health routine and regular dental check-ups.
When you have tooth decay
There is a chance that even the most dedicated brushing and flossing routine won't be enough to keep tooth decay at bay. Some people have a predisposition for teeth that leach minerals (demineralisation), which softens them, and others have a diet high in sugar, which leads to acid eating away at the tooth enamel. Other people may have underlying health issues that weaken teeth and lead to decay.
Regular checkups with a dentist allow them to watch the areas most at risk of tooth decay. When you do get the news that you need a filling, there's no need to feel dread or panic. Our dentists at National Dental Care will do everything possible to not only make you feel comfortable, but to educate you on the repair process.
How do I know if I have tooth decay?
When your dentist tells you that you need fillings, it doesn't come as a huge surprise for most people. The thought that something is amiss with your tooth may be what landed you in the dentist's chair in the first place. These are some of the signs that you've got tooth decay:
- Sensitivity when you eat cold or sugary food.
- Pain when you bite down.
- A hole that you can feel with your tongue, or see when you look in a mirror.
- Black, brown, or white staining on a tooth.
A step-by-step guide to fillings
Fillings are the most common remedy for tooth decay, also known as dental cavities. When your dentist discovers tooth decay, they may not fill them on the spot. You'll often need to make a second appointment to have the actual repair work done.
You can usually get fillings done in less than an hour, but the anaesthetic can take several hours to wear off. When you go for your appointment, you'll get an anaesthetic to numb the tooth and the area around it. Your dentist can numb the area with a topical solution, before the needle, so it won't hurt as much. They then begin by removing the decay with a drill, and aim to leave as much healthy tooth as possible. The remaining cavity is disinfected, dried, and then filled.
The different types of filling materials
There are several options for the actual material filling your tooth. Your dentist will recommend the best for your unique situation:
They are the old school kind that your parents had. They've been in use for over 150 years and aren't used much any more. They're a mix of metal alloys (an amalgam) that include silver, tin, mercury, and copper. The amount of mercury is minuscule and is not harmful, but the presence of the metal turns off some dentists. An amalgam filling is soft and fills in the minute crevices of the cavity, but hardens quickly. The dark grey colour is also a negative for some people.
Composite tooth coloured fillings
They are quite popular as they match the natural colour of the tooth. Composites are a solution made of resin that is soft and malleable, so can be easily moulded to fit the cavity. A blue light shined on the composite filling hardens it in place. These resins are extremely durable and may be used as a replacement for a chipped, stained, or leaking filling.
Gold fillings are not very common these days, although they last forever, will not corrode, and are quite durable. The downside to a gold filling is that it contrasts with natural tooth colour and is very expensive as it is a two-step process.
This kind of filling is used for inlays and onlays. This also requires two steps to complete, and is usually reserved for occasions when the bulk of the tooth structure is compromised. The porcelain can be matched to your tooth colour for a natural appearance and is much stronger than composite.