What is a Filling?

Have you ever been told you needed a filling? What is a filling? A filling is simply a material that is used to “fill-in” part of a tooth. A tooth may be missing a portion due to breaks from eating hard foods, cavities, or developmental issues with the tooth. To replace the missing part of the tooth, a material is placed and contoured to mimic the missing area and to make the tooth whole again. There are two major types of filling materials that are used today, amalgam and resin. Amalgam is a metal based filling material that is compacted into the tooth to fill the missing portion. Amalgam is a mixture of several different metals, mercury, silver, copper and tin to name a few. This mixture is placed in the missing portion as a very soft mixture and hardens over time. This hardening may take a few hours to complete. Once the material has hardened, the material is strong and durable and can last 20-30 years. Amalgam fillings have a long track record in dentistry, having been around for over 100 years. While some have questioned the mercury content in amalgam fillings, studies have shown that after initial placement, minimal mercury is released from these fillings. While these fillings tend to work well, they do not blend in with the teeth around them and can be noticeable when a patient laughs or smiles. Most patients want a more natural look when they have dental work done, and for that reason more people are preferring to use tooth colored fillings.

A resin filling is typically a ceramic or plastic tooth colored material. These fillings are placed and hardened using an ultraviolet light. Because of this, the filling is all set when you leave the office and you can eat on the new filling right away. These filling also use a bonding agent to chemically and physically bond to the tooth. In addition to being fully set, the filling is tooth color and will blend into the tooth and look more natural. Dental composites are a newer material compared to amalgam but have still been around for more than 20 years. Dental composites are continuing to develop and new forms come out daily that better match that of your natural tooth structure in both function and looks.

Both types of fillings do have a limit to the amount of tooth they can replace. If the piece of missing tooth that is to be replaced is large enough, the tooth may need a crown, which is encompasses the whole tooth leading to less risk of further breakdown of the tooth.

In closing, a filling is the material used to replace a missing piece of a tooth. The missing piece can be caused from chipping a tooth or from a cavity. In either case, a great way to restore the missing piece is to place a filling and return the tooth to happy and healthy! As always, if you have any questions you can contact your dentist for more information.

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