A cavity is a small hole or decayed area in a tooth, typically caused by colonization of the bacteria in your mouth. Frequent flossing and brushing can reduce these bacterial colonies, but sometimes a cavity occurs anyway. These are very simple to treat with a tooth filling, but unfortunately, many patients don’t get their cavities treated right away for a variety of reasons. In fact, the CDC reports that untreated cavities are among the biggest untreated health issues in the country.
How Do Tooth Fillings Work?
The dentist will give you a shot of lidocaine or another numbing anesthetic in the area of the decayed tooth. After checking to make sure you’re thoroughly numb, they will drill into the cavity, eliminating all the decay. Next, your dentist will fill in the hole with either a silver-colored amalgam material or a composite resin. The resin is preferred because it comes in a full range of shades and can be matched with your teeth, so no filling is visible. Most people choose these for more visible front teeth. You can also use the composite resin on back teeth, which aren’t as frequently visible, but some insurance companies will only pay for amalgams on back teeth. For this reason, some patients choose the amalgam filling for teeth that aren’t as close to the front of the mouth.
How Long Does a Filling Take?
Usually less than an hour. Small, single fillings may take as little as 20 or 30 minutes. If you have several cavities, it may take an hour or more.
What is a Temporary Tooth Filling?
Normally, fillings are meant to be permanent. We put them in, and the patient goes on their way, chewing as usual on the filled tooth. However, in some situations, we may instead put in a temporary filling that is only meant to last a short time before being replaced with a more permanent solution. Reasons for placing a temporary filling include:
- A painful cavity that can’t be filled right away. If your cavity is very large and causing you a lot of pain, and we don’t have time to fill it immediately, we may place a temporary filling to block food and beverages from getting into the cavity and aggravating your pain. Then we’ll schedule an appointment for you to come back and have the tooth permanently filled.
- A temporary filling for a dental crown. A crown is a permanent covering for a tooth that is cracked, chipped, or damaged and can’t be repaired with a permanent filling. In this case, the temporary filling provides protection until the crown procedure can be scheduled.
- A temporary seal following a root canal. In a root canal procedure, your dentist will drill down into an abscessed tooth and clean out any diseased tissue. It will then need a crown, so we may put in a temporary filling until your crown can be created.
- Medicated fillings. Sometimes a patient has tooth pain and sensitivity due to a cavity or inflammation of the tooth pulp (pulpitis). We may place a medicated filling to reduce pain and calm the nerves in the tooth in the hopes that the inflammation will go away and a permanent filling will be all that’s needed. However, in some situations, pulpitis becomes irreversible, and a root canal is needed, so we will check on the tooth after a few weeks to see how it’s doing.
What If You Want a White Tooth Filling or a Cosmetic Filling?
A composite resin filling can be matched to the same shade of white as your teeth. Generally, the only reason not to do a composite filling is if the dental insurance won’t cover it and the patient is unable or unwilling to pay out of pocket. In this case, we can still do an amalgam filling. Composite resin fillings are also called “cosmetic fillings,” which is sometimes the reason your insurer may provide for declining to cover them.
What Happens If You Don’t Get a Cavity Filled?
We know there are many reasons why people put off treatment for a cavity. You may feel that if the cavity isn’t hurting you, a filling is unnecessary. Or you may not have dental insurance at the moment and want to avoid the cost. Some people who have not had fillings before are apprehensive about the procedure, while others are very busy and don’t think they can make the time to have a filling done.
Unfortunately, failing to treat a cavity can have multiple unpleasant consequences. The decay will continue, and eventually, it will reach the pulp inside the tooth. The pulp consists of nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissues, and an infection in this area may be very painful. As discussed earlier, pulpitis can become irreversible very quickly, at which point you will either need to have a root canal or have the tooth extracted. In most cases, root canals are preferred because they preserve the tooth, but they are not appropriate in every situation.
Here are several important reasons why you shouldn’t delay treatment for your cavity:
- Either a root canal or a dental extraction (removing the tooth) is a longer, more complicated procedure than a filling, so you will ultimately spend much more time getting dental treatment than you would if you had a simple filling. Typically root canals involve 2-3 appointments as opposed to one, and the first appointment may take several hours.
- We understand that many people have financial concerns, but a root canal or extraction is going to be much more expensive than a filling, especially if you don’t have dental insurance and have to pay out of pocket. If you have concerns about cost, please speak with our friendly office staff. They can give you an estimate of what your insurance carrier will cover if you have a dental policy. If not, they may be able to recommend alternatives like applying for a Medicaid/Medicare policy.
- Allowing a cavity to decay further increases the risk that you will have significant tooth pain. Your recovery time may also be longer after an extraction or root canal. We always recommend that patients take care of small dental issues before they turn into big dental issues.
- If you have dental anxiety or are very apprehensive about having a cavity filled, we offer several options for sedation.
- We can also use sedation dentistry to do fillings for young children who are very nervous or unable to sit still. If you are concerned about your child’s cavity or dental treatment, please make an appointment, and we’ll be happy to go over your concerns and find a solution to make them comfortable while getting the treatment they need.
How to Get Dental Fillings in Gwinnett County
Please contact Great Care Family Dentistry if you have or think you might have a cavity. We will first examine the tooth and take X-rays to ensure we’ve correctly diagnosed the problem. Sometimes a sensitive tooth may benefit more from a fluoride treatment than an immediate filling. If you do need a filling, we will schedule you an appointment and take care of it in a timely manner, preventing the need for more complex procedures.