Aside from exams and cleanings, cavities are one of the most common reasons why people visit the dentist.
Cavities form when plaque (a combination of bacteria, food debris, and saliva) builds up on the teeth; the plaque releases acid that erodes surface enamel, causing tooth decay to occur.
Signs of cavities include persistent toothaches, particularly when biting and chewing, tooth sensitivity, brown or black spots on tooth surfaces, and visible holes in the teeth. That said, in their earliest stages, cavities may cause no symptoms at all, which is why regular dental cleanings and exams are important. Cavities do not resolve on their own and will not get better without treatment. Left to progress, cavities may spread to the pulp of a tooth, eventually requiring a root canal or even extraction. Although rare, infection from a tooth can also spread throughout the body via the bloodstream.
When decay is at the surface level only, we treat cavities by removing all areas of decay, then replacing that portion of the tooth with a dental filling.
These fillings may be:
- Composite resin, which matches the color of your teeth. These fillings are made with a mixture of glass or quartz filler. They are strong and durable, and because they blend in with natural teeth, they are suitable for fillings anywhere in the mouth. Composite fillings are best for cavities that are small or medium in size.
- Dental amalgam, or silver fillings. Although silver in color, they’re made from a combination of metals, including mercury, silver, tin, and copper. Many patients choose to replace amalgam fillings they received in the past with composite resin fillings because of concerns about aesthetics and mercury content. Amalgam fillings are durable and long-lasting, but best suited for molars because of their color.
- Gold fillings are made with a combination of gold and other metals. These fillings are strong and durable, but less commonly used. Gold is used for inlays and onlays, which are restorations that are placed when more of the tooth structure needs to be repaired than a filling can accomplish.
- Ceramic or porcelain is also used for inlays and onlays. This provides a more natural looking result, and because this type of restoration is bonded to the remaining tooth surface, it results in a stronger tooth.
During the procedure to place a filling, we will inject a local anesthetic into the area around the tooth, then use a tool to remove the areas of decay. The tooth is then cleaned thoroughly to prevent future decay from forming beneath the filling. For a composite filling, the most common type we use, we apply the material in layers, curing each layer with a specialized light before moving onto the next. Once your tooth is filled, we shape it to look natural and create a smooth surface by polishing it.