Unless you managed to be that one child in Washington who listened to their parents and actually brushed their teeth religiously, it’s quite likely you’ve had a cavity at some point in either your childhood or adult life. Cavities are the result of a build-up of plaque that open up holes in your tooth’s enamel, letting nasty bacteria in that chips away at your tooth material. Unfortunately, once a tooth starts to decay, there’s really no turning back – dental intervention will be required. That being said, by catching a cavity at an earlier stage, you may be able to minimize the damage to your overall tooth, meaning less complications down the line.
It’s not easy to spot tooth decay in its earliest phases. That’s why it’s critical to have regular check-ups with your dentist, who may be able to identify troubled teeth and take action earlier. In between check-ups, be sure to take note of any symptoms you may be feeling; a toothache, sensitivity to hot or cold foods or beverages, or pain when biting are all signs you may have a cavity. Don’t discount physical appearance either – stains on your teeth surface or visible holes are also all signs of tooth decay.
A filling is the most basic treatment for a tooth plagued by decay. After applying a local anesthetic, the dentist will remove any remaining decayed material, before ‘filling’ it in. Typically speaking a filling can only be applied when the decay is minimal. There are a variety of filling materials available, each with their own benefits and considerations.
Amalgam: This silver-hued filling has been used for over a century by dentists worldwide. Amalgam is the most affordable type of filling and easy to put in, but their color is noticeable and they’re more prone to expansion, which could lead to a cracked tooth in the future. It should be noted that concerns about mercury within amalgam fillings are unfounded; the FDA has declared them to be safe. You may also have an option to get an amalgam filling with a tooth-colored composite sealant.
Gold: Gold fillings are generally considered more attractive than their silver counterparts, and due to their source material, are among the most durable. However, they are quite expensive and may require multiple visits.
Composite: Resin or composite fillings have become popular in the last two decades because they are designed to relatively seamlessly blend in with your teeth. This versatile material may actually result in less tooth material being removed as well. However, resin fillings aren’t quite as durable as their metal-based cousins and they may also take multiple visits to place.
Other: Two less popular types of fillings are ceramic and glass ionomer. Ceramic fillings are similar to composite fillings, only they’re more durable and more expensive. Glass ionomer fillings are weaker, but are useful for children with still-developing teeth (especially since they can release cavity-preventing fluoride).
When the damage to a tooth is too great for a filling, or if a filling has worn down, a crown may be used to help restore the overall integrity of a tooth. A crown is a prosthetic which is placed directly over the tooth. The goal is to both protect from additional damage while also eliminating any pain or sensitivity you may be experiencing. The good news is, crowns are more attractive than a filling, easily blending in with your existing teeth. With proper maintenance, a crown can last for twenty years.
Typically speaking, a crown used to take multiple visits to put in place. However, new technologies like CEREC crowns use a mix of a 3D camera and computer-aided design to allow for same-day installation – keeping you out of the dentist’s chair and on your way. These porcelain crowns can be color-matched to create a seamless smile.
Ultimately the decision to go with a crown or a filling will come down to the level of decay you have. On the upside, new advances in both options make it easier than ever to banish cavities and keep that healthy, glowing smile.