Dental fillings are a common remedy for cavities and dental decay. Typically, they involve the removal of the decayed tooth material, cleaning the affected area, and filling the cavity with a restorative material such as silver amalgam or composite resin.
But how long can you expect these fillings to last? This is a question many patients ponder upon.
This article seeks to shed light on the expected lifespan of dental fillings, factors that can influence it, and the signs to look out for that indicate that a filling might need replacement.
Overview of Dental Fillings: What are they and why are they used for dental care
Tooth fillings are essentially a way to restore a tooth damaged by decay back to its normal function and shape.
The dentist first removes the decayed tooth material, cleans the affected area, and then fills the cleaned-out cavity with a filling material.
This procedure closes off spaces where bacteria can enter, preventing further decay. Fillings are also used to repair cracked or broken teeth and teeth that have been worn down from misuse such as from nail-biting or tooth grinding.
In most instances, the need for a filling is determined by your dentist, who may discover a problem during a regular check-up. They may also find cavities or problems with existing fillings through X-rays, or by using a small mirror to inspect your teeth.
The nature and severity of the problem and the material used for the filling can determine its lifespan. Factors such as the patient’s oral hygiene habits and the location of the filling in the mouth can also influence how long it lasts. It’s essential to note that while dental fillings are designed to be durable, they don’t last forever and will eventually need to be replaced.
You can read more about dental fillings in our post: Your frequently asked questions about dental fillings
Different Types of Dental Fillings – Amalgam fillings, Metal fillings, Composite fillings
Amalgam fillings, also known as silver fillings, have been used for more than a century and are known for their durability. They are made from a mixture of metals including tin, silver, copper, and mercury. Despite the presence of mercury, these fillings are safe and resistant to wear. However, due to their dark colour, they are more noticeable than other types of fillings and are not usually used in very visible areas, such as front teeth.
Metal fillings, including gold and silver, are durable and can last for many years. Gold fillings are often considered the highest quality and are typically the most costly. They require multiple visits to fit and are noticeable due to their colour. Silver fillings are less expensive but are more noticeable than composite or porcelain fillings.
Composite fillings, made from a resin composed of plastic and fine glass particles, are popular because they match the colour of the tooth, blending in and appearing more natural. They are not as durable as metal fillings, particularly for large cavities, as they may not last as long. Over time, the filling may chip or wear away, requiring the filling to be replaced.
The Lifespan of a Dental Filling – Factors that influence the longevity of a filling and what you can do to make it last longer
The lifespan of a dental filling can vary significantly and is influenced by several factors. The primary factor is the material used in the filling; for instance, amalgam and metal fillings tend to last longer than composite ones. The size and location of the filling also play a role, with smaller fillings and those located on less-used teeth generally lasting longer.
The quality of the dental work is another crucial factor. A skilled dentist who properly prepares the tooth and applies the filling can significantly enhance its longevity. Patient behaviours, including dental hygiene practices and dietary habits, also have an impact on a filling’s lifespan. Regular tooth brushing, flossing, and professional cleanings can help extend the life of a dental filling. Similarly, avoiding foods that can damage the filling—such as hard, sticky, or overly sugary foods—can also help it last longer.
It’s worth noting that no filling lasts forever. Regular check-ups are essential to identify any wear and tear and to take the necessary preventive measures or replacements. Remember, early detection and repair of fillings can help prevent more extensive and costly dental work in the future.
On average, an amalgam filling lasts about 15 years while a composite filling on average lasts about 7 years. However, it’s important to note that these are broad averages and we’ve had patients whose fillings have lasted above and beyond this time.
Understanding the Signs of Wear and Tear on Dental Fillings
Recognising the signs of wear and tear on dental fillings is critical to maintaining oral health. One common sign is sensitivity in the filled tooth when consuming hot, cold, or sweet foods and drinks. This sensitivity could also occur when you bite down, indicating that the filling may have cracked or worn down.
Another sign is noticing a sharp edge or rough spot on the tooth, which could suggest a broken or chipped filling. If parts of the tooth feel softer or appear darker, this could be a sign of decay under the filling. In some cases, the filling might fall out entirely, leaving a noticeable hole in the tooth.
Regular dental check-ups can help identify these issues, but individuals should also be observant of any changes in their teeth and mouth. It’s crucial to identify and address any potential problems early to prevent further complications.
When Should You Get Your Filling Replaced – When to act fast and when you can wait
It’s important to be proactive in assessing the state of your dental fillings. If you observe any of the aforementioned signs of wear and tear, it’s advisable to get a dental check-up.
In the event of a cracked, chipped, or fallen out filling, immediate action is necessary. A damaged or missing filling can expose the tooth to bacteria, leading to further decay or infection. Therefore, it’s recommended to contact your dentist as soon as possible if your filling is significantly damaged or missing.
However, there are scenarios when you can afford to wait a little while. For instance, if you notice increased sensitivity in a filled tooth, it doesn’t always indicate a serious issue. It could be a temporary reaction to temperature or pressure changes. But, if the sensitivity persists or increases over time, it’s best to consult your dentist.
Remember, even if you’re not experiencing any discomfort or noticeable changes, regular dental check-ups are essential to ensure the longevity of your fillings and overall oral health. Your dentist can detect early signs of wear and tear that may not be immediately visible or perceptible to you. Regular check-ups can prevent potential complications, ensuring that your fillings serve their purpose effectively and for as long as possible.
Tips for Making Your Filling Last Longer – How to practice good oral hygiene habits to maintain your filling’s lifespan
Maintaining your fillings is largely about good oral hygiene and healthy lifestyle choices. Here are a few tips that can help extend the lifespan of your dental fillings:
- Regular Brushing and Flossing: This is the cornerstone of oral health. Brush your teeth at least twice a day and floss daily to remove plaque and prevent decay.
- Use Fluoride Toothpaste: Fluoride can help strengthen your teeth and prevent tooth decay. It’s particularly beneficial for teeth with fillings.
- Avoid Hard and Sticky Foods: These can damage your filling or even dislodge it. Select softer foods and chew with caution.
- Limit Sugary Drinks and Snacks: Sugar is a primary cause of tooth decay. Reduce your intake of sugary foods and beverages to protect your teeth and fillings.
- Stop Smoking: Tobacco can stain your fillings and weaken your overall oral health. Consider quitting or significantly reducing your habit.
- Regular Dental Check-ups: Visit your dentist regularly for professional cleanings and to monitor the condition of your fillings.
By incorporating these habits into your daily life, you can uphold the integrity of your fillings, and prolong their effectiveness.
In conclusion, dental fillings are essential to restore tooth structure and maintain ongoing oral health. It is important to understand the different types of dental fillings, spot signs of deterioration, and take the right steps to maintain the lifespan of a dental filling. When done correctly, you should be able to confidently enjoy a healthy smile knowing your fillings are in top condition.
If you have any concerns about your fillings or would like more information on treatment options, do not hesitate to contact the friendly team at Hamilton Dental Centre. Our experienced dentists will be happy to explain everything in further detail and help you make an informed decision regarding your oral health.