Occasionally, you may hear employees grumble that a filling in their tooth broke (or fell out) and needs to be repaired. How could this happen? Shouldn’t fillings last a lifetime?
Most people don’t realize that while dental fillings are an effective treatment for tooth decay, they rarely last forever. The good news is that your employees can significantly increase the longevity of their fillings if they understand the value of dental filling care and what it entails.
Importance of Dental Fillings
Left untreated, dental decay can spread beyond tooth enamel and into the softer portions of the tooth. If decay reaches the pulp (nerves and blood vessels) it may be too late for a filling—leaving root canal treatment or an extraction as the only options. This is why dentists want to fill cavities before they get too large.
When restoring a tooth, the dentist removes all of the decay and packs the area with a filling material. The material is then used to reconstruct the tooth to its normal shape, so it can function properly. Once complete, the filling helps ward off bacteria and prevent further decay.
Types of Dental Fillings
Various filling materials are available, but dentists usually consider the size of the repair, the location of the tooth and the cost before recommending what they feel is the best material. Here are some of the choices frequently used, and why.
Amalgam (silver) fillings are actually a mix of various metals, MouthHealthy explains. Resistant to wear, this filling option can withstand heavy chewing forces, making it a good choice for molar teeth. Dentists also use amalgam for areas that are hard to keep dry, like below the gum line. Allergic reactions are rare, and the material is less expensive than other options. However, the darker color of amalgam makes the fillings more noticeable than tooth-colored options. Amalgam has been used for more than 100 years and the American Dental Association—along with other science-based organizations—say that this material is safe and poses no health risks.
Gold fillings, sometimes called “inlays,” are made in a laboratory after an impression of the tooth has been taken. They are then cemented to the tooth at a later appointment. Gold is often considered the best filling material because it is strong and durable, as noted by the American Dental Association, and can last a significant amount of time. However, this is the most expensive choice of all available materials.
Porcelain fillings are also made in a laboratory. Porcelain matches the tooth color and is more resistant to staining than composites. But while these fillings are also known to last, they will cost you. The price of a porcelain filling is typically similar to the price of a gold inlay.
Composite resins can be matched to the color of the tooth, making them an ideal choice for fillings in the front teeth. Because they are less durable than amalgam and often chip away over time, they are not suited for large cavities, MouthHealthy notes. Composite fillings also stain easily from foods and tobacco products, and are more expensive than amalgams. Although they may not last as long as amalgams or some other materials, with good care, they can last up to 10 years.
When Fillings Need to Be Replaced
According to the American Association of Endodontists, sensitivity to hot or cold foods can be a sign there is a crack or break in a filling, as can a sharp pain in the tooth when biting down or chewing on food. A tooth that feels rough to the tongue may have a chipped filling, and sometimes, a piece of filling can break off while eating. Employees who are suffering from any of these symptoms should call their dentist right away. It’s not unusual that during a routine dental examination, a leaky or cracked filling is discovered by the dentist before there are any noticeable symptoms.
How to Help Fillings Last
Dental filling care is no different from the care necessary to prevent cavities in the first place. Here’s what everyone with or without fillings in their mouth should do:
- Brush thoroughly at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, and floss daily
- Limit sugary, sticky snacks and choose healthier options
- Rinse with an alcohol-free, therapeutic mouthrinse to reduce oral bacteria
- Don’t use tobacco products, and limit foods that stain (like coffee and tea). Rinse your mouth with water when you do eat these foods
- Opt for water over acidic drinks like sodas and juices
- Avoid biting down on hard foods and chewing ice
- See a dentist at least annually for check-ups and cleanings, and more often if recommended by your dentist
As your employees implement these strategies to keep their fillings intact, they will be delighted when their dentist finds fewer new cavities to fill.