Establishing a routine of regular dental checkups every six months can drastically reduce the severity of any cavities that do develop. The filling of cavities that are detected early is much less involved than the treatment of cavities that have developed over a long period of time.
What is a cavity?
Cavities are demineralization of the tooth's surface caused by bacteria, Streptococcus Mutans. This bacteria metabolizes sugars to produce an acid that literally dissolves the tooth. Cavities that deepen beyond the tooth's surface enamel and reach the interior of the tooth can become painful and if left untreated, can severely damage the tooth.
What are Complications of a Cavity?
Once a cavity has developed, it must be addressed as quickly as possible so that it doesn't reach the tooth's pulp – which could necessitate a more involved procedure like a root canal. Severe cavities may damage a tooth to the point that a crown is necessary, and if an infection develops in the cavity, an abscess may form. Some abscesses may lead to the extraction of a tooth. Abscesses are dangerous as well as painful; severe infections can attack soft tissue and the jaw itself, or invade the bloodstream and spread to other parts of the body.
Fortunately, all of these drastic scenarios can be avoided with a regimen of good dental hygiene and regular checkups designed to catch cavities when they are in their earliest stages.
The How and Why of Dental fillings
Your dentist is trained to completely remove the effected tooth structure while preserving as much natural tooth structure as possible. This procedure usually requires "drilling". Once the area has been prepared, a filling restores the tooth to its original form. This procedure allows the tooth to continue functioning for many years.
What is a dental filling?
When your dentist fills your tooth, the procedure is relatively straightforward. Using a drill or laser, he or she will remove all of the decay from the cavity and shape the area where the filling will be placed. Then the cavity is filled with a substance – often a "tooth-colored"
What are my options for fillings?
In the early days of dentistry, fillings were usually crafted out of metal. Dentists in the 1800s experimented with different varieties of metal from silver and gold to tin and aluminum. The use of lead fillings was discontinued when evidence began to emerge regarding its harmful effects of the body. Eventually, most dentists began to use amalgams comprised of several types of metal, usually including silver – which is why the need for multiple fillings once meant a mouth full of silver.
Fillings can still be crafted from amalgams, and other filling options include gold, ceramics, and glass ionomers. All have benefits and drawbacks. Most common in modern dentistry is the use of composite resin, which not only matches a tooth's color and is less obtrusive than other filling options, but actually bonds to the tooth for a seamless, natural look. Composite fillings are the best choice for an aesthetically pleasing smile.
If your dentist detects a cavity at your next regular checkup, don't let dental anxiety get the best of you. Chances are that you caught it early enough that the experience of getting it filled won't be overly involved or difficult, especially when you consider the alternative of letting it go untreated and facing more extensive intervention sometime in the future. If you have questions about getting a tooth filled, talk to your dentist. He or she can explain the procedure and help reduce any anxiety you might be feeling.
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