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What Is Involved in a Dental Fillings Procedure?

By M.R. Anglin
Updated May 17, 2024
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A dental fillings procedure should be prefaced by a dental examination. During this exam, the dentist will locate areas of the tooth that need attention. To complete the dental fillings procedure, a dentist may first numb the area and then remove the decayed tooth material. After that, the area should be cleaned. The dentist can then properly place the desired filling and adjust the filling's size so that the patient's bite is maintained.

Though not technically a part of the dental fillings procedure, a dental examination is an important aspect to repairing a damaged tooth. During the exam, the dentist will use tools such as an explorer, which is a metal tool with a sharp tip on the end, to find decayed areas. The explorer allows the dentist to probe areas of the tooth for weakness. He may also use an X-ray or a caries — another name for decay — detecting dye to look for cavities. Once the decay is located, he can start planning and discussing the best options for the procedure.

A dentist can use a variety of material to restore teeth, but three are often used during a dental fillings procedure: amalgam, composite resin, and ionomers. Amalgam fillings are silver colored and have been used worldwide for over a century. It contains elemental mercury which may be a concern for some, but experts contend that when bonded in the metals contained in the alloy, the mercury is safe. A newer material is composite resin which a tooth colored, plastic material. Ionomers are a glass fiber and acrylic acid material and are often used to fill cavities on the root surface or in between teeth.

The dental fillings procedure often starts with numbing the area if it is needed. After the area is sufficiently numbed, the drilling can begin. To prepare the area for the filling, the undesired tooth material must be removed and the area cleaned of bacteria. A dentist has a variety of different burs to use on his drill, called a handpiece. The size and shape of the burs he uses depends on the size and location of the cavity. The dentist may also use lasers or air abrasion to remove tooth decay.

After the decay is removed and the area cleaned, the dentist can insert the filling. In some cases, the area will have to be treated with a base to protect the underlying pulp, the living part of the tooth that contains the nerves. The exact process used to insert the filling depends on the type of filling used. Once placed, the dentist will then shape and file the filling to make sure it is not too high and that a person's bite is maintained. After that, he can polish the tooth.

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