The bacteria in plaque produce acids that erode tooth enamel, eventually creating a hole, or cavity, in the tooth surface. Left untreated, this decay can spread to the interior of the tooth, and might lead to the need for a crown, a root canal, or even extraction. When caught early, your dentist can treat your cavity conservatively by restoring your tooth’s function and appearance with a filling.
What kind of filling do you need? Your choice of restoration will depend on the location of the cavity and how much of the tooth structure is affected.
- Direct Filling
For most small to moderate cavities, direct fillings can be bonded to the tooth immediately after removing decay and cleaning and shaping the tooth.
Composite resin, dental amalgam, and glass ionomer fillings are typically used for this type of single visit restoration.
- Indirect Filling
An indirect filling is the right choice for molars and premolars with larger areas of decay or damage. Indirect fillings fit more securely, last longer than direct fillings, and can even strengthen the remaining tooth structure. An inlay fills the tooth surface inside the cusps, while an onlay typically covers the center of the tooth and one or more cusps.
Indirect fillings can be made of composite resin, gold, or porcelain, and are created from a mold taken after the tooth is cleaned and prepped. The finished filling is bonded to the tooth at a second visit.
Once you know what type of filing you need, you and your dentist can choose the best filling material for your tooth based on durability, aesthetics, longevity, and cost considerations:
- Composite Resin
Made of acrylic resin mixed with powdered quartz, glass, or other ceramic particles, composite resin can be used for both direct and indirect fillings.
Composite resin fillings are popular, especially for fillings in the front teeth, because they are color-matched to blend with natural enamel. These fillings generally preserve more of the tooth structure and are quite durable, although gold or porcelain might be a stronger choice for chewing surfaces.