When a cavity in a tooth has destroyed or corroded too much of the enamel and dentin, a dentist may decide to mount a dental filling in the tooth to reverse the damage. Dental fillings strengthen the tooth, prevent further damage to the structure and alleviate any pain that is being experienced. This method is called a direct restoration because the filling is fitted directly in the mouth and not manufactured beforehand.
Patients have the choice of metal fillings, also called amalgam fillings, or resin fillings. The difference is that amalgam fillings will be clearly visible in the mouth, while resin fillings are very hard to detect. However, amalgam fillings are stronger than composite resins.
The process for placing a filling begins with the dentist's cleaning out of the cavity. Some of the tooth as well as any decayed matter is cleaned out. A liquid is placed over the cavity to help create a tight bond with the filling. Finally, the filling is placed into the cavity and molded into the proper shape within the tooth. If resin is being used, then a special light or laser is employed to harden the filling.
After the procedure is completed, a patient will feel an ache in the mouth where the work was performed. This is normal and can be alleviated with over-the-counter pain relievers. No further recovery time is needed. Fillings can last 5 to 20 years or even longer depending on the patient's oral hygiene and the dentist's thoroughness.