Understanding Your Options When Dental Fillings Need Replacing 

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Andrew Slavin, DMD, FACS

Andrew Slavin, DMD, FACS

October 9, 2018

Dental fillings are restorations to the teeth which replace whichever part of the tooth has been lost to decay. While it is normal for dental fillings to last for many years, they almost never last for an entire lifetime, and must eventually be replaced. Just as your teeth are subject to assault from eating, drinking, clenching, grinding and other harmful forces, so are your dental fillings.

It should not be surprising that there is a need to replace dental fillings, given the fact that bacteria are always present in the mouth, and always working to attack teeth and dental fillings. Fillings which have been compromised in any way, such as by chipping or cracking, will leave gaps between the filling and the tooth which provide easy access for bacteria.

Decay-causing bacteria and food particles can work their way into any cracks and promote decay. This harmful material cannot easily be removed by brushing or flossing, and is even resistant to gargling and swishing with mouthwash. That makes it very common for decay to develop along the edges of the filling, and sometimes even underneath it. When this kind of decay is not quickly detected, it can progress its way into the dental pulp, where the blood supply and the nerve reside. When that happens, it’s very likely that a root canal procedure will have to be performed, or the tooth will have to be removed.

Importance of dental examinations

This should all make it abundantly clear that regular dental checkups are essential to good oral health,and the prevention of tooth decay. Whenever there are problems with fillings in your mouth, this can generally be detected during an examination, before it progresses to a problematic stage. Even if you don’t feel any particular sensitivity in the area of a filling, a dentist will be able to spot weaknesses or any minor damage already in progress.

Using an instrument called an ‘explorer’, your dentist will probe for any kind of wearing or cracking in existing fillings, especially around the edges. If the seal between the filling and the tooth is still intact, chances are your existing fillings are structurally sound and still healthy. To discover decay which is taking place under a filling, it will be necessary to use a dental radiograph, which is the equivalent of an x-ray. By scheduling regular dental checkups, any compromising of your existing fillings will be detected by the dentist and steps can be taken to either repair or replace your filling.

When replacement is needed

When your dentist finds that fillings need to be replaced, you have a number of options available to you that will provide good oral protection and will also allow you to present a more pleasing smile to the world. New materials are being developed all the time which can provide a more natural-looking appearance.  These materials can approximate the natural color of your other teeth. In terms of how long any of these materials will last, the major factors are: where the filling has to be placed, the kind of chewing and bite forces applied to the filling, and the type of material used in the filling.

Filling material choices

Silver amalgam is a composite of copper, tin, mercury, and silver and these components are mixed in a combination so as to provide a very strong filling material. The durability of silver amalgam is matched by its ease of preparation and its superior resistance to wear and tear. Silver amalgam is also fairly inexpensive to use, compared to some of the other filling choices. If there is any drawback to using silver amalgam, it’s that the material has a darkish color, and can be readily observed when the mouth is open.

Glass ionomers are materials which closely resemble your teeth color, and are composed of a mixture of organic acids and fine, ground-up glass powders containing fluoride. Glass ionomers can provide a very solid tooth restoration solution, and have the added appeal of regularly releasing tiny amounts of fluoride.

Composite fillings are made of tiny glass-like particles as well, in conjunction with acrylic resins, and these can be colored to mimic your existing teeth coloration. Composite fillings are best used in small-sized restorations, where only moderate chewing pressure will be experienced in the mouth. In these settings, composites can provide tremendous durability and structural soundness and can last a long time.

Andrew Slavin, DMD, FACS

Andrew Slavin, DMD, FACS

Hello there, great choice moving towards the personal dental health care you desire!

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