Your dentist may use several methods to determine if you have tooth decay (caries), including:
- Observation – Some discoloured spots on your teeth may indicate decay, but not all of them. Your dentist may use an instrument called an Explorer, to probe for possible decay. Decayed enamel is softer, and the instrument will stick slightly.
- Cavity detecting dye – This dye is placed all over the surfaces of your tooth and rinsed off. Remains will stick to the decayed areas.
- X-rays – An x-ray can show decay developing, especially in between teeth where the eye cannot see.
Decay is not the sole reason you may require a filling though, cracked or broken teeth, teeth that have been worn, things like hard brushing and tooth grinding can contribute to the need for a filling.
Steps to having a filling done
When you visit the dentist to have a filling done, you may be given a local anaesthetic to numb the area, if deemed necessary. Next, the dentist will remove the decay from the tooth using some tools.
Once the decay is removed, the dentist will then shape the tooth to prepare for the filling. Different types of material require different retention techniques. Your dentist may put a baselining down to protect the tooth’s pulp (which is where the nerves are).
If your dentist is placing a bonded filling, they will etch the tooth with a gel, followed by primer and bond. These steps are necessary for the filling to stick to the tooth. It is important to keep the tooth dry during this process, the dentist may use cotton rolls and a cheek pad to assist with this as saliva is natural.
Certain types of fillings are “set” by a special light. With these fillings, your dentist will layer the material, stopping several times to shine a bright light on the resin. This “sets” the material and makes it strong.
Finally, after the filling is placed, your dentist will polish the filling and check your bite is normal.
After a filling
After a filling is complete, some people feel sensitivity for a few days or weeks. The most common reason for sensitivity is the filling is too high and not suiting your bite, sometimes (especially when we are numb) it is hard to detect a high spot. The high spot can be minor but can create pressure if this is the case. Another reason for post filling sensitivity can be the proximity of the filling to the nerve. The nerve may be inflamed and can take some time to settle. If the pain becomes worse or you are concerned, call your dentist for a check.
Keeping your fillings
Your dentist will examine your fillings at your check up appointments. You may require x-rays if the dentist thinks the filling has cracked or if they think decay could be forming under the filling. Visit your dentist regularly for a check-up, at this appointment they will review any fillings that may be of concern.