what you need to know about dental fillings

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Dental Fillings

Dental fillings are one of the most traditional treatments you’ll find in any dental office. While they’ve changed significantly over the past few decades, dental fillings are one of the most relied upon treatments when it comes to combatting one of the top diseases of humankind: tooth decay.



White Fillings are Minimally Invasive to Your Tooth


Today’s composite resin dental fillings require far less tooth preparation than previous silver (amalgam) designs. That’s because they bond directly to your tooth enamel, allowing them to be placed in smaller spaces, smoother surfaces, and without having to cut a “wedge” into the tooth to hold them in place (like silver fillings do.) This characteristic means that white fillings are structurally far smaller than silver alternatives, minimizing tooth alteration whenever they’re placed. In the end, you get to maximize the amount of natural tooth structure you’re able to preserve, instead of having to cut into it to wedge a silver filling at an angle that won’t fall out. White fillings allow us to only remove the part of the tooth that’s decayed, without sacrificing the healthy structure immediately adjacent to it.


Fillings Help Prevent the Spread of Tooth Decay


Cavities are bacterial infections. If they aren’t intercepted in a timely manner, a cavity will just continue to spread deeper into the tooth—and possibly nerve, creating an abscess—as well as adjacent teeth. By treating a cavity as soon as it’s diagnosed, we’re able to help stop the spread of tooth decay into otherwise healthy enamel. That’s one reason why it’s so important to treat a cavity as soon as it’s detected. Early intervention helps stop the chain reaction of tooth decay running rampant throughout the mouth. While there are certain situations where we may want to take a “watch and wait” approach, a cavity that has already broken through the outer layer of enamel should be treated as early as possible.



Flossing Won’t Pull Your Filling Out


Anyone who has had recent dental work completed is cautious about the care of their smile. For a lot of individuals, there is a fear that flossing will pull something out. Whether it’s a crown, a bridge, or even a filling. As long as your restoration is placed appropriately and the bond is strong, flossing will not pull it out. If it were to pull it out, it would be extremely rare. However, not flossing could allow bacteria to accumulate around your new restoration—leading to a new cavity—with could allow your filling to fall out. Essentially, it’s safer and healthier to floss around your new filling every day than it is to not floss around it.



Fillings Occasionally Need to be Updated


While modern dental fillings can last for several years, they are not a lifelong restoration. Dental fillings do occasionally need to be changed out every now and then. Depending on how well you brush and floss, the size of your filling, where it’s located, and your diet, you might find that it lasts anywhere from 7-10 years or more before needing to be updated. The key is to help prevent recurrent decay from re-forming around the filling in those spaces where you already had a cavity before. Keep in mind that every time a filling needs to be replaced, it becomes slightly larger than the one you had before.



Teeth with Large Amalgam (Silver) Fillings May One Day Need a Crown


Conventional amalgam fillings don’t bond to your tooth enamel the way composite (white) restorations do. As such, they require a wedge cut-out into the tooth to physically hold them into place. If you had a very large cavity that was repaired with a silver filling, there may not be much tooth structure left around it. One day when that filling begins to leak and needs to be replaced, there might not be enough tooth left to “fill”. Putting an even large filling into a shell of enamel could allow the tooth to crack when you bite down. To provide the highest level of protection, a full-coverage dental crown is usually recommended on those teeth.


Since silver fillings tend to be a bit more invasive to the healthy tooth structure, we prefer to use minimally invasive white fillings whenever possible.


You Can’t Bleach Dental Fillings to a Lighter Color


The composite resin color of dental fillings is what gives them their unique shade-matching ability. We use a special guide to evaluate the exact hue of your teeth and select a filling material to match for aesthetic purposes. But these materials hold their color over time, meaning you can’t apply teeth bleaching products and hope to whiten them to a lighter shade in the future. If you think you may want to whiten your teeth, we’ll want to discuss placing a temporary filling, having you whiten, and then matching your new filling to the brighter shade of your enamel. Otherwise, you will probably want to have your filling replaced after you whiten because the older one will no longer match (causing it to stand out from the rest of your teeth.)



Fillings are Only Good Up to a Certain Size


In order for a dental filling to be effective, you need to have a healthy amount of enamel around it. If the cavity is extremely large, the thin layer of enamel that’s left might not be enough to withstand normal biting and chewing. Putting a large filling in that space could create heavy pressure points that cause the adjacent tooth structure to crack when you bite down, leaving you with little tooth left to restore.


A healthier and more predictable alternative is to place a crown over the compromised tooth. Since crowns protect teeth from every angle, they help to distribute biting pressure across the restoration. This approach preserves the remaining tooth structure underneath. Crowns essentially act like a protective helmet for your tooth. Our Raleigh office also offers same-day dental crowns to expedite the traditional two-visit care experience.



Yes, Children May Need Fillings on Baby Teeth Too


There’s a misconception that since children will eventually lose their baby teeth, you don’t need to treat them if they have a cavity. In the instance where a baby tooth is about to come out, that might be the case. But primary (baby) teeth play an important role in your child’s oral development. Not only are they placeholders, but they also act as guides for the adult tooth that’s developing underneath. Pulling a baby tooth since there’s a cavity could jeopardize your child’s tooth alignment and jaw development.


Primary teeth are much less dense than permanent adult ones. When they get cavities, the decay can spread at alarmingly quick rates. It’s best to fill the area quickly to stop the spread of decay. Otherwise, the cavity can expand into multiple adjacent and underlying teeth. They can’t be left alone.



No, it Doesn’t Hurt to Get a Dental Filling


If you’ve never had a filling before, don’t be alarmed. We have a variety of comfort options available to help you enjoy a relaxed, low-key appointment that is as gentle as possible. With modern numbing medications and minimally invasive techniques, we can complete your appointment in a way where you only feel a little bit of pressure. For people who feel a little more anxious, we also offer in-house sedation. You can easily schedule all or most of your required treatments at one time; daydream your way through the sedation appointment as we help you catch up on everything your smile needs to be healthy.



You Might Need a Filling Even if Your Tooth Doesn’t Hurt


Probably one of the biggest misconceptions about tooth decay is that your tooth will hurt if you have a cavity. That’s not necessarily the case! We often identify areas of active decay where there are no symptoms whatsoever. While painful toothaches can definitely accompany tooth decay, other signs to look for include food getting caught in one area each time you eat, irritated gums, something feeling “off” when you bite down, or random sensitivity. Don’t wait until you think you can see a brown or black area of decay before seeing a dentist in Raleigh. At that point, the cavity will likely be so large that you need more than “just” a dental filling to repair it. By that stage, a root canal or crown could be your only option left. Schedule regular checkups to have your teeth professionally screened for cavities every six months.



Restorative Dentistry in Raleigh


Raleigh Dental Arts provides innovative restorative and cosmetic dentistry services with a highly experienced care team. Whether you’re looking to transform your smile with dental implants and a smile makeover or you’re exploring wisdom tooth extraction options for your teen, our Raleigh dentists offer care you can trust.


Contact us today to reserve your next appointment!


Tarun Agarwal

Dr. Tarun Agarwal, DDS is considered one of the top dentists in the country. He is a recognized speaker, author, and dental leader. He has been featured on CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX, and News 14 Carolina. Dr. Agarwal has been awarded '40 under 40' Business Leaders by the Triangle Business Journal. He is regularly invited to teach other dentists around the world and recently built a training center within the practice dedicated to sharing his expertise. Most importantly he is a loving husband and dedicated father of three wonderful children. His biggest accolade was being voted 'Best Dad in the World' by 2 of his 3 kids.