What Are Dental Fillings?
A dental filling is a common procedure used by dentists to repair cavities usually caused by tooth decay and, in some cases, damage caused by accident/trauma. In the case of tooth decay, the first thing your dentist must do is remove all of the decayed tissue from within the tooth. The remaining space (hole) left behind following the decay removal process is then filled with materials such as a tooth- coloured composite resin or in some instances amalgam (a mercury and metal alloy mixture).
Tooth Coloured Fillings
In the majority of cases, patients tend to favour the tooth-coloured composite resin over amalgam, primarily because composite resin is much more natural looking. As the more popular choice amongst patients, composite resin fillings are commonly referred to as either ‘tooth-coloured fillings’ or ‘white fillings’.
For larger tooth cavities, your dentist may suggest having an inlay rather than a routine filling. An inlay is a solid piece of material typically made from composite resin, ceramic or sometimes gold. They are custom made in a laboratory and are designed to fit exactly the shape and size of the space left behind from a removed cavity. Inlays are typically very durable and can handle a great deal of pressure (from chewing) and temperature variations. Inlays, like fillings or crowns can be expected to last between 5 and 8 years on average.
In cases where the degree of decay and damage to the cusps (force bearing tips) of a tooth is more extensive, a filling or an inlay may not be a viable option. Instead, a dental onlay may be a good choice for these larger scale single-tooth restorations. An onlay can be custom fabricated in the mouth or can be custom fabricated in a dental laboratory in the same way as an inlay. However, onlays are larger in size and are designed to cover more of the whole tooth as opposed to a smaller portion of a tooth (as in the case with an inlay). In situations where damage to a tooth is more extensive again, your dentist may recommend going the route of having a dental crown fitted. This covers the entire tooth structure.