Fillings or Crowns?
While prevention through brushing and flossing is definitely better than cure when it comes to caring for your teeth and gums, should tooth decay develop, your dentist has a range of options for restoring your teeth's shape and function.
Fillings, however, are often the first course of action when dealing with tooth decay.Your dentist will examine your teeth, and using X-rays to pinpoint the location and extent of the decay, and decide if a filling is required.
An array of filling materials
If it is needed, the material used, each of which has advantages and disadvantages, will depend on a number of factors including which tooth is being filled and the way your teeth fit together.
Amalgam is durable and inexpensive, but requires more of the tooth to be removed, and can blacken with age. While the use of amalgam is increasingly giving way to resin, it is still in use and quite safe and there is no need to replace your amalgam fillings just for the sake of it.
Resin makes up most of the "white" or "tooth-coloured" fillings, but is not as strong as amalgam, gold or porcelain.
While it's not as durable as resin, this silicon-based cement bonds well to your tooth and is often used to fill baby teeth.
Gold & Porcelain
While highly-durable, gold doesn't look as good as more natural-looking materials. Similarly-durable, porcelain doesn't discolour like resin or glass ionomer. However, both take longer to prepare, meaning more appointments.
Short-term fillings are used following root canals which require multiple appointments, where a tooth nerve needs to be "settled down" prior to further treatment, or during emergency treatment.
After the filling
Don't be alarmed if your tooth feels sensitive to things like pressure, air, sweet foods or temperature following treatment. This is fairly common and usually subsides within a few weeks. If the sensitivity persists beyond that, see your dentist.
When good fillings go bad
Constant wear and tear can cause fillings to wear, chip or crack, opening the seal between the tooth and the filling, and allowing food particles and decay-causing bacteria to slip in and potentially cause an abscess. However, if you're seeing your dentist regularly, they'll this way before it becomes serious.
Your dentist may restore your tooth with a crown rather than a filling. Usually made of gold or porcelain, they're a customised tooth-shaped cover designed to protect the structure of the tooth, often used where a large filling needs to be replaced but where there's not enough tooth left to support a filling.
SOURCE: Australian Dental Association (www.ada.org.au)