Let's Talk Dental Fillings: Procedure and Costs
A dental filling is a type of restorative dentistry treatment used to repair minimal tooth fractures, tooth decay or otherwise damaged surfaces of the teeth. Filling materials, which include composite, porcelain and silver amalgam, may be used to even out tooth surfaces for better biting or chewing.
Enamel loss is a common component of tooth decay, and may result in tooth sensitivity. In many cases, sensitivity caused by enamel loss will be significantly improved or completely eliminated once an appropriate dental filling material is placed. But in some cases, depending on the extent of tooth decay or damage, the affected tooth may require additional or alternative procedures, including:
- Dental Crowns: Teeth requiring more support than offered by a traditional filling may require a dental crown.
- Dental Implants and Dental Bridges: Irreparable tooth damage requiring tooth extraction may require an implant or bridge.
- Root Canals (perhaps along with antibiotic treatment): Infected, abscessed or nerve damaged teeth may require a root canal procedure.
Consultation and Treatment Planning
One of the more common oral health issues discovered during scheduled cleanings is decay. Your dentist will examine suspect teeth using a dental probe and caries detecting liquid, as well as take an X-ray to determine the extent and exact location of the cavity and decay.
Once it is determined that a filling is needed, your dentist will advise you of your options for filling and sealing the cavity to prevent further decay and damage to the tooth. Based on your medical history, location of the cavity, esthetic needs, biting force, durability, cost, number of visits necessary and your preference, your dentist will determine your best filling option, whether that be direct composite bonding, amalgam (silver), gold or inlays/onlays created in a dental laboratory, or using in-office CAD/CAM equipment.
Your dentist may be able to complete your filling treatment immediately. The area surrounding the affected tooth will be anesthetized (numbed) using a local anesthetic, and if necessary, you also may receive a form of sedation dentistry to ensure your comfort. Keep in mind that if you undergo sedation dentistry, you will not be able to drive yourself after the procedure.
The dentist begins the procedure by preparing the tooth and necessary surrounding areas in order to restore the decay or damage. The decay or damage is removed with a dental hand-piece or laser, and the area is cleansed to remove bacteria or debris before the restoration is completed.
The first step in performing a composite filling procedure involves isolation of the tooth. Tooth isolation is critical in a composite restoration because it prevents moisture from interfering with the bonding process. This requires the placement of various adhesives followed by the composite material, which is then hardened with a special bonding light. The completed composite restoration is both functional and natural looking.
Recovery and Aftercare
After the cavity has been filled, your dentist will discuss steps you can take to prevent decay from forming under or around the filling, or in other teeth.
Brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and flossing with dental floss or an interdental cleaner once a day is advised. Keep appointments with your dentist and hygienist for routine check-ups and teeth cleanings. Depending on your risk for caries, your dentist also may suggest sealants that can be placed over your molars to prevent the build-up of plaque and decay, as well as the use of fluoride mouth rinses as an additional preventive measure.
Also, since diet and nutrition affect oral health, it will be important to maintain a balanced diet and limit your intake of sugary foods and drinks, and between meal snacks.
How Much Does Treatment Cost?
Composite fillings are usually more expensive than traditional amalgam fillings because they require a more sophisticated process, more expensive materials and additional office equipment. Composite materials offer an aesthetic alternative to traditional amalgam materials. As such, people who have previously received amalgam fillings often return to their dentist to have them replaced with composite.
The cost of dental fillings depends on a variety of factors, including:
- The dentist who performs the procedure.
- The location where it is performed.
- The type of dental insurance you have. As mentioned above, dental insurance typically does not cover the additional costs associated with composite.
- The number of tooth surfaces that need filling. For example, one tooth may have only one surface affected by decay or damage, while another tooth may have one or all surfaces affected by decay or damage.
On average, amalgam fillings are expected to last approximately 12 years, while composite fillings are expected to last five to seven years. This of course is dependent on your unique considerations, the care with which you treat your oral hygiene and your commitment to continued dental visits.
The cost for amalgam averages approximately $110 to $200 per filling, whereas the cost for resin-based composite, which is determined by the number of tooth surfaces on which the material is placed, ranges on average from $135 to $240 per filling.
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