Maintaining good oral health is essential for overall wellbeing. While regular brushing and flossing can help prevent cavities and tooth decay, sometimes dental fillings are necessary to repair damaged teeth. Dental fillings play a crucial role in preventive dental care by stopping the progression of decay and restoring the structure, function, and integrity of teeth. Here are the basic steps involved in a routine dental filling procedure.
Initial Examination and X-rays
The first step is a thorough oral examination by the dentist to assess the extent of decay and damage. The dentist will check for visual signs of cavities and may prod gently near any affected areas to check for soft spots that indicate decay. They will also examine the overall health of the tooth and surrounding teeth. If the decay is not clearly visible, dental x-rays may be taken to reveal hidden tooth decay between teeth or under old fillings. X-rays provide important diagnostic information to determine the location and depth of lesions.
Once the diseased area is identified, the dentist will administer local anesthesia like lidocaine to numb the region and block any pain signals during the procedure. For minimal drilling, a topical numbing gel may be applied directly on the affected area. The anesthesia takes effect within 5-10 minutes. As the tooth becomes numb, you will feel slight pressure but no pain when the dentist probes the area.
Next, isolation tools like dental dams or clamps may be placed to separate the tooth being worked on from the rest of the mouth. This helps keep the area free of saliva and debris.
Removal of Decay
The dentist then uses a special dental drill to remove any decayed material from the tooth. Drilling is done incrementally, with the dentist examining the cavity between passes. All the infected and softened enamel and dentin are excavated until only solid healthy tooth structure remains. This step is important for long-lasting durable restorations.
Shaping the Cavity
The prepared cavity is then shaped and contoured using dental instruments. The enamel at the edge of the cavity is tapered and smoothed to make sure the filling bonds securely to healthy tooth structure. An ideal cavity has retention grooves for the filling material and no sharp edges that could compromise the seal.
Placing the Filling
Once the decay is removed and cavity is ready, the dentist selects an appropriate dental filling material to restore the form and function of the tooth. The options include gold, porcelain, composite resin, or amalgam fillings. The filling material is placed and molded into the prepared cavity in layers. It is then shaped and adjusted to match the bite and contour of the natural tooth.
Hardening the Filling Material
Resin-based composites are hardened using a special dental curing light. Other materials like amalgam naturally harden over time through a chemical reaction. The dentist ensures the filling is completely set before proceeding.
Polishing and Finishing
The dentist smooths and shapes the final filling using dental tools, abrasive strips, and polishers. A rough filling can irritate the tongue. The occlusal or biting surface may be adjusted to make sure it meets opposing teeth properly. A smooth polished finish improves both comfort and longevity.
Once completed, the filled tooth is thoroughly checked to ensure it meets properly with opposite teeth in the bitten down position. There should be no interference in the bite or discomfort when chewing. The dentist also verifies that the shape and color match surrounding teeth.
The dentist provides post-op care instructions. This may include avoiding hard or sticky foods, chewing gently on the side opposite the filling for 24 hours, using desensitizing toothpaste for sensitivity, and proper oral hygiene to prevent reinfection. Regular dental visits and preventive care help new fillings last.
Significance of Dental Fillings
Fillings play a preventive role in dental health. They stop caries progression and help avoid more invasive treatments like crowns, root canals or tooth extraction. They also prevent bone loss and aid in chewing, speaking and smile aesthetics. However, vigilant oral hygiene is needed as tooth decay can still recur around old fillings. Regular dental checkups coupled with proper brushing, flossing, and a balanced diet can optimize the longevity of dental fillings.
In summary, dental fillings involve a systematic multi-step procedure. It starts with diagnosis using exams and x-rays, followed by anesthesia, tooth isolation, caries removal, cavity preparation, placement and shaping of the filling material, adjustments and finishing, and finally bite checks and post-op care. When done properly, fillings successfully restore decayed teeth and prevent further deterioration, thereby maintaining oral health and function. With good oral hygiene and regular dental care, they can last many years.