Many patients with fillings have dental amalgams, made of a combination of metals. These have been used for many years and continue to be used by dentists today because of their strength and decreased cost to the patient. Amalgams are often used for back teeth because they can withstand the grinding and forces related to chewing. The hardness and durability make them a good choice for molars. These fillings have a silver, metallic appearance, which is why they are less esthetically pleasing on the teeth in the front of the mouth.
Resin composite fillings are created with acrylic plastics, quartz, and colorants to match the color of the teeth. Over the years, the materials used in resins have been perfected and the durability has increased. They are now used for fillings throughout the mouth. Dentists find resins easier to work with and that the compound is simpler to form into the shape of a natural tooth.
Resin composites are actually bonded to the natural tooth. This ability does not exist with amalgams. They are fitted to the tooth, but not bonded. Resins offer a stronger connection between the filling and the tooth as well as offering a more comfortable feeling in the mouth.
Prior to the evolution of tooth colored fillings, patients who had cavities and still wanted a natural look had to resort to crowns. Crowns application is a more invasive and expensive procedure.
The resins used for fillings can also be used to repair chipped teeth, build up worn teeth, and if the inside of the tooth is undamaged, resin can repair broken teeth.
If a tooth is broken or decayed and there is not enough of the healthy tooth left to support a repair with a filling, the resin cannot be used. A further restorative procedure, including a crown, may be necessary. In these cases, your dentist will evaluate and recommend the appropriate procedure.
A special appointment is necessary for a filling as it cannot be done at a regularly scheduled cleaning and checkup. The dentist will administer anesthesia, usually a local injection, prior to beginning. Before the dentist starts, the tooth is isolated and surrounded with dental materials so that it stays dry throughout the procedure; compressed air may be used to dry the tooth completely. The dentist then uses a drill to remove the decayed portion of the tooth.
After the decayed portion of the tooth is removed, the dentist will apply the tooth colored resin in layers. After each layer, a special light is used to cure, or harden, the material. When the tooth is completely filled, the dentist will sculpt it so that it has the shape of a natural tooth. You may be asked to bite down to evaluate whether the filling is the appropriate height and adjustments may be made to ensure overall comfort. The result is a beautiful, healthy looking tooth!