In general, a dental filling is used to restore tooth structure that is lost, decayed or damaged.
In many instances, patients realise that they need a filling because either their tooth has sustained dental trauma, or they can see dental decay or tooth structure loss, or they can feel decay or a broken or worn-down tooth (usually with their tongue).
Sometimes, though, we are unaware that we need a filling. In these instances, it’s only a routine dental examination that detects areas of decay or loss of tooth structure requiring a filling.
Often due to sporting accidents, and more often than not in children, trauma that results in a broken tooth (or several teeth) can necessitate at least one filling.
NOTE: Dental trauma resulting in fracturing of the teeth can expose nerves, in which case root canal procedures will be needed in addition to fillings.
Dental fillings for decay
Most commonly dental fillings are used to restore teeth that have been affected by dental decay (dental caries). In some cases such holes in the teeth may be obvious to the patient, especially if they cause toothache, but this is not always so. Often the first sign of decay is discolouration of the tooth surface.
Frequently, initial decay areas can be treated with site-specific oral hygiene and certain products (normally containing high-strength fluoride) to stop the progression of the decay. However, if the enamel is cavitated or broken down, particularly as far as the inner layer of the tooth (dentine), a filling is generally necessary to stop the bacteria entering the pulp (nerve) area of the tooth.
Dental fillings for worn-down dentitions
Worn dentitions, which are commonly seen in those with grinding/clenching habits, can sometimes be treated with fillings to restore the dentition to the ideal shape and size. A worn dentition is often accompanied by a deepening of the bite, which can affect the overall facial profile. When the worn teeth are restored, the bite can often be opened up to help alleviate this problem.
Dental fillings for aesthetic reasons
Occasionally, teeth that are misshaped, discoloured due to defects (over-exposure to fluoride or specific medications) or broken down can be improved with dental fillings known as composite veneers, which can improve the appearance of the teeth immediately.
Things to look for which may be a sign that you need a filling:
- Noticeable holes which are seen with the eye or felt with the tongue
- Isolated areas of sensitivity
- Discolouration or shadowing of tooth surfaces.