A dental filling is a type of restoration intended to replace tooth structure lost through trauma or decay. Dental fillings typically last many years, but the constant assault from eating and drinking, combined with stress from clenching or grinding, may eventually cause a dental filling to fail.
Fillings that have chipped, cracked, worn away, or fallen out may leave spaces between the tooth and the filling, providing entry points for bacteria in your mouth – in saliva and plaque. If the seal between the filling and tooth breaks down, food debris and caries-causing bacteria may find a place to hide inside the tooth where a toothbrush cannot reach them easily, causing decay to develop along the edge of the filling or underneath it.
Decay that is undetected and untreated can progress and infect the dental pulp (contains the tooth’s blood supply and nerves) resulting in loss of the tooth, or endodontic treatment (root canal).
Other reasons to consider replacing a filling:
The factors mentioned above are actually the only reasons why a dentist may recommend the removal and replacement of a filling. However, some patients may want a replacement for esthetic reasons, like:
- You don’t like how the composite filling was shaped
- You don’t feel like the colors were properly matched, or bleaching your teeth left the enamel whiter than the filling
- The fitting done on your filling feels uncomfortable
Importance of Routine Dental Check-ups
Going for regular dental examinations is important because any problems with existing fillings can be detected in the early stage. While you may not be able to identify when your filling is worn, your dentist can detect any weaknesses, chips, or decay in it during a routine check-up.
During the checkup, the dentist evaluates whether the existing fillings are intact or worn away using an instrument called an “explorer” to gently check worn spots around the filling’s edge. This is a useful tool that helps the dentist establish if the dental filling is sealed to the tooth, or if it is worn to the extent that a replacement is necessary.
In some cases, X-rays may be required to help detect caries under existing dental fillings or between teeth, neither of which can be identified by simply looking at the tooth. Once the dentist finds proof that a filling has failed, or spots decay on the radiograph, it is important that the filling be replaced promptly. You should never wait until a crack appears in the filling or the tooth starts to hurt.
Early detection and treatment of failed fillings can reduce the need for extensive, and usually costly, restoration procedures. There are a number of tooth-colored materials that can be used for your new fillings, with varying levels of performance, longevity, and cost. These include amalgam, composite, and glass ionomers.
The best choice of material should be determined by the patient in consultation with the dentist. So, discuss your options before commencing any treatment.