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Dental Visits Decoded: Fillings

Posted on July 27, 2016 in General oral health


Dentist and assistant in exam room with man in chair smilingNeed a filling? You're not alone. Ninety-two percent of adults have had at least one cavity by the time they're 64 years old, which means that most people have experienced a filling or two.1 Here's what you can expect when you go in to get your cavity treated.

After your dentist or hygienist seats you in the dental chair, he or she will numb the area with a gel, a shot, or both. Once you're feeling no pain, your dentist will clean the decayed enamel away with a high-speed drill or laser system. When the decay has been removed, the hole will be shaped to support the filling.

The material your tooth is filled with depends on the location of the cavity and your preference. An amalgam filling is a stable alloy made out of mercury, silver, tin, copper and other elements. Because it's silver, amalgam is typically used for back teeth since they aren't as visible. A composite filling is tooth-colored and blends in well with natural teeth, making it a better fit for cavities in visible places. Some plans only cover amalgam fillings on back teeth rather than composite; be sure to check your dental plan specifics before getting your cavity filled so you know how much you may owe, if anything.

The type of filling you get depends on the severity of your cavity. A crown is used to repair a broken or extremely weak tooth and can cover more surface area, making it ideal for a larger cavity. If your cavity is smaller, an inlay or onlay may work. An inlay fits into the contours of your tooth, while an onlay usually covers most of the tooth's chewing surfaces, but not all of the sides.

If you have a cavity that needs to be filled, be sure to discuss your options with the dentist. He or she will be able to provide advice on what your insurance covers and what will work best for your individual needs.

Note: Procedure descriptions cover what is typically involved in a procedure; actual method may vary by dental office.

1 http://www.nidcr.nih.gov/DataStatistics/FindDataByTopic/DentalCaries/DentalCariesAdults20to64.htm