When oral hygiene habits (i.e., brushing and flossing) are not kept, bacteria are left to remain on the tooth surface where they produce acids that attack the teeth enamel. When the enamel erodes away, and the acids reach the tooth, a cavity can form. To prevent further damage from occurring, the cavity will need to be treated with a dental filling.
A filling restores normal function back to a damaged tooth and closes off spaces where bacteria can enter, protecting it from further damage. If left untreated, the decay can progress and reach the tooth nerve, which will then require a root canal, a more extensive treatment.
Materials used for dental fillings include amalgam (metal), and composite. Ceramic fillings are also commonly used. These are often made of porcelain and are more resistant to staining than composite resin materials.
To place a filling, the area around the tooth receiving the filling will first be numbed with a local anesthetic to minimize discomfort. Then, using a variety of tools, the dentist will remove the decayed area. Once the decay has been removed, the tooth will be cleaned to prepare it for the filling. The material is applied in layers, with a special light administered after each layer is applied in order to cure, or harden, it. When all the layers have been applied, any excess material will be removed, and the dentist will mold the filling to the desired shape. The filling will then be polished to complete the restoration.
While dental fillings are fairly common, they are easily avoided by observing good oral hygiene.