Dental fillings, as the general public often calls them, are direct restorations usually placed to repair lost tooth structure after decay has been removed. Fillings are considered direct restorations because they are placed immediately and made to intimately fit into a given tooth. On the other hand, an indirect restoration such as a crown, is made by lab and cemented at a later time. The different materials used for fillings include porcelain, gold, or composite resin (tooth-colored). Other options are an amalgam, which is an alloy of silver, mercury, copper and tin, and sometimes zinc. Nowadays, nearly all fillings placed are made from a composite resin material. This material is not only esthetically pleasing, but it also bonds to the tooth structure, which is especially important when greater amounts of tooth structure must be removed. Every year, technological advances in the world of dental composite resins occur, leading to more esthetic and stronger options for these restorations. However, one characteristic that has remained is the need for proper isolation when placing this material in the mouth. This is a very technique-sensitive procedure that can fail when contaminates such as saliva and blood enter the working area. At our office, we are very adamant about using rubber dams, which not only isolate the teeth from contaminates, but also protect the patient from debris and instruments being dropped into the open mouth. When done correctly, a filling can serve its purpose many years, especially when the patient is doing his or her part by practicing good home oral hygiene care.

Here is what you can expect when your dentist gives you a filling:

  1. Local anesthesia – at the beginning of your filling procedure, you may be given local anesthesia to numb the area around the tooth.
  2. Tooth decay removal – the dentist will cut through the enamel using a drill to remove any decay. After the dentist removes the decay, the dentist will shape the space to ready it for the filling.
  3. Etching – for a bonded filling your dentist will etch the tooth with an acid gel before placing the filling.
  4. Resin application – for certain types of fillings the dentist will layer on the resin and harden it using a bright light to strengthen the tooth.
  5. Polishing – after the filling has been placed, your dentist will polish the tooth.

The severity of the decay will effect the type of filling and treatment you receive. Your dentist will be able to tell you what treatment is needed and will carry out the best plan for your individual needs.