We use various shades of tooth-colored composite for your dental fillings. Not only is it esthetic, it is the more conservative treatment when compared to the traditional silver amalgam fillings.
Amalgam is held in simply by mechanical retention: we condense the pliable mix into the cavity preparation and it expands slightly when it hardens. To provide the retention that amalgam needs, tooth structure additional to the decay is removed by way of extensions, dovetails and undercuts.
We do not use silver amalgam as a dental filling material in our office. Why? Well, did you know that it is actually illegal for us to put silver amalgam in the regular trash can yet it’s perfectly legal to put it in your mouth? Thankfully, this is a moot issue because we have better materials to restore our teeth today that won’t harm our health and environment.
With composite fillings, only the decayed area is removed. Adhesive is placed between the tooth and the composite is bonded to the tooth. If there is secondary decay (decay around an old filling) around an amalgam filling, the entire filling must be removed and a new, larger filling placed. Around a composite filling? Just remove the affected area.
In general, composites allow for conservative dental fillings and that helps maintain a tooth's longevity.
Many of our patients have the same questions that you have:
What is a cavity? How do cavities happen?
Cavities, or tooth decay, are caused by an infections disease called dental caries. Cavities are the formation of holes in your teeth by acid-producing bacteria.
It’s important to understand that there are several biological reasons that influence the formation of cavities in individuals and that is why the occurrence of cavities varies from person to person. In addition to your diet and your dental care at home, these are the biological risk factors:
- the amount and type of acid-producing bacteria in your mouth
- the ability of your saliva to neutralize the acid produced by these bacteria
- the hardness of your enamel (mineral composition)
Some people are really lucky and have won the genetic tooth lottery—their teeth are truly resistant to cavities and they can get away with eating anything they want, not brushing 2x a day, and checking in with the dentist every decade or so. Most people, however, are disappointingly human—we need to brush our teeth regularly, floss, and stay away from candy. If you are one of these people who are prone to cavities, brushing and flossing may not be enough. You might have a bacterial imbalance in your mouth and we can help you correct that.
How can I avoid cavities?
First, stop the spread of disease. Cavities should be removed by a dentist and the teeth restored with filings or crowns. Dental sealants may also be suggested for kids with high risk teeth.
Second, maintain a healthy cleaning regimen at home. Brush your teeth twice a day with an electric toothbrush and floss between the teeth. Consider using additional products to clean your teeth, such as a WaterPik.
Third, consider using a prescription strength fluoride toothpaste/oral rinse or—if you’re not into fluoride—an acid-neutralizing product that contains xylitol and nano hydroxyapatite (a building block for enamel replacement).
And, last but not least, watch what your eat and drink. High sugar sweets, starchy carbohydrates, and highly acidic/sour drinks or treats all contribute to decay or erosion of the enamel surface.
What if I don’t do anything? Can we just watch it?
Left to its own devices, the cavity will most likely grow and extend toward the tooth’s nerve. How quickly this will happen will depend from person to person. No dentist can predict when it will get “bad enough to fill.” Once a patient can feel the cavity, it will be too late. That means that the cavity has affected the nerve. This will result in pain and infection. At that point, your options will be either a root canal treatment or extraction.