Getting a filling at your dentist’s office is not a complicated procedure and, while few people enjoy the process, it is seldom painful. In fact, getting a filling can very often relieve the pain of a toothache or prevent a toothache before it starts.
Bacteria in the mouth break down remnants of food that remain behind after meals, especially sugars and starches, and produce acid as a byproduct. Bacteria, acids, food debris, and saliva build up on the surface of the tooth and form a substance called plaque that gradually wears down the enamel of your teeth, producing cavities. Unlike with bone, the body cannot replace enamel once it wears away, so once a cavity is formed the body has no way to heal it on its own. Many years ago, this would necessitate the removal of the entire tooth, seldom with the luxury of anesthetics. Today, a dentist can fill the cavity with a hard material, usually a composite resin or amalgam of mercury, that mimics the original tooth enamel and protects the tooth from further damage.
Before a dentist fills a cavity, he or she will administer a local anesthetic which prevents pain signals from reaching the brain. The injection of the anesthetic is usually the most painful part of the procedure. However, a skilled dentist can reduce the pain considerably by using a topical anesthetic gel.
Once your mouth and tooth are numbed, your dentist will remove the decayed portion of the tooth using a dental drill. A dental assistant will also administer suction to remove water and saliva from your mouth during this procedure. Both high speed and low speed drills will be used; the slower speed makes more fine work possible, but you may feel a vibration when your dentist uses this. The dentist may also use some manual tools to refine the area where the filling with go.
Next, the dentist will fill the cavity with an amalgam of mercury or with a composite resin. Each has its own pros and cons, so discuss with your dentist which is best for you. If the cavity is between two of your teeth, a metal band will be applied around your tooth to build up a wall sufficient to hold the filling. The dentist will pack the filling tightly into your cavity, which makes a crunching noise, much like stepping on snow. The dentist will check your bite and then allow the filling to set. The filling will set and harden very fast. If a composite resin filling is chosen, the dentist will cure it with a blue or ultraviolet light to aid this process. Once the filling has set, you’re all done! The dentist may need to smooth down the filling to adjust the bite later on, but as this is not done to the tooth itself, you won’t have to be numbed. From this point on, all you’ll have to worry about is preventing future cavities with good oral hygiene and preventative care. Brush and floss regularly, and you’ll only have to visit your dentist for cleanings and regular checkups from here on out.