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Brushing and flossing play a crucial role in oral health, but they can’t heal a cavity once it’s formed. While preventable, cavities are a common problem in the adult population. In fact, an estimated 96% of Canadian adults have a history of cavities.

Composite fillings are the treatment of choice for many patients with cavities. If you’ve never had a direct filling, you may not know what to expect during your appointment. Let’s take a closer look at the process.

Direct filling procedure

What to Expect When Getting a Composite Filling

It’s natural to be apprehensive or nervous about getting a filling at the dentist, especially if it’s your first time getting one. But modern dentistry has come a long way, and today, the procedure is quick and painless.

Here’s how it works:

Initial Exam

The first step is to conduct an exam to make sure you really need a filling. We’ll start by looking for minor fractures or cavities that may need treatment. 

If left untreated, cavities can progress and lead to infection, further decay and tooth pain.

We can use a wide range of tools to check for cavities, including X-rays. X-rays can help us see the extent of the damage from cavities and whether there are any fractures in your teeth.

The initial exam is an important first step in the treatment process. By the end of this appointment, we’ll know how many cavities you have and what types of treatment options will work best.

In many cases, cavities can be treated with composite fillings.

The Composite Filling Procedure

The dental filling procedure is quick, simple and virtually painless. In most cases, patients don’t have to do anything special to prepare for their appointments because the procedure is non-invasive.

Most patients are in and out of the dental chair in about an hour - sometimes less. The length of your appointment will depend on the extent of the decay and how many teeth we’re working on. But the great news is that you can get right back to your regular routine after you’re done.

Administer Local Anesthetic

The first step is to administer local anesthetic to ensure the procedure is as painless as possible. You may feel a slight pinch when injecting the local anesthetic. In some cases where we are filling spaces between teeth we may not need any anesthetic.

If you’re concerned about feeling pain during the procedure or you have dental anxiety, we can discuss all of your options for making your appointment comfortable and stress-free.

Fillings only cause minor irritation, so local anesthetic is typically all that’s needed for a pain-free procedure. 

Prepare Your Teeth for Composite Fillings

Once the treatment area is numb, we can move on to the next step: preparing your tooth for the filling. Before we can apply the filling, we have to remove the decayed or damaged area of the tooth.

We’ll use a handheld device to remove the decay, and one of our dental assistants will use a suction device to remove this material. 

Next, we’ll apply a gel that cleans your tooth and removes any remaining bacteria or debris.

All of the bacteria and decay must be removed before we can apply the filling. Otherwise, the filling will seal the bacteria inside of your tooth and lead to further infection. 

Apply the Filling

Now that your tooth is prepared, we can finally apply the filling.

  • First, we’ll apply an adhesive material to help the composite material bond with your tooth.
  • Next, the composite material is applied to the cavity, and a special ultraviolet light will be used to harden the material.
  • We’ll repeat this procedure until we’ve built up enough composite material to seal your tooth. The composite material must be built up in layers to properly fill in the hole and prevent further decay.

Sealing the tooth will help prevent bacteria from forming again.

Smooth and Polish the Tooth

The final step is to add the finishing touches - smoothing and polishing the tooth. Smoothing and polishing will help the filling look more natural.

Before you hop out of the chair, we’ll have you bite down on carbon paper just to make sure that your bite is normal. If the filling is too high, we’ll continue smoothing and shaping the material until it’s just the right size.

The goal is to ensure that your filling is in line with the rest of your teeth, so you can eat normally without any discomfort. This last step will also help protect your filling from damage.

Composite Filling Before and After
Composite Filling Before and After

After-Care

Once we’ve removed the decay and applied the filling, you’re free to get back to your regular routine. You may feel numb for a few hours after your appointment until the local anesthetic wears off. 

Some patients feel slight discomfort once the anesthetic wears off. An over-the-counter pain reliever can help ease your pain. 

As a general rule of thumb, it’s best to avoid eating until after the anesthetic has fully worn off. Otherwise, it’s very easy to burn or bite your tongue or lips.

Consider eating soft or liquid foods for the first day, and avoid eating anything that’s too hot. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated. 

To keep your teeth healthy and to protect your new filling, it’s important to get right back to your normal oral hygiene routine, which should include:

  • Brushing at least twice a day
  • Flossing once a day
  • Coming in for routine cleanings and exams

The good news is that you can continue brushing and flossing as normal right away. There’s no need to change the way you brush your teeth.

Complications and Risks

Dental fillings are one of the most common procedures in modern dentistry, and most patients never experience any complications.

However, it’s still important to be aware of potential risks and complications that can arise after getting a filling. 

We ask that you call our office right away if you notice:

  • Your filling is pulling away from your tooth. When fillings start to pull away from the tooth, it creates an opening for bacteria and can lead to an infection.
  • Your filling has broken or fractured. Fillings can break for a number of reasons, from eating hard foods to trauma. We can repair the filling to keep bacteria out and infections at bay.

Issues like these aren’t common, but if you do experience them, please contact our office to schedule an appointment.

Another important thing to note is that composite fillings are more susceptible to stains. If you drink coffee or smoke cigarettes, your fillings may become stained over time. Unfortunately, this type of filling material cannot be whitened. 

How Long Do Composite Fillings Last?

The longevity of composite fillings depends on several factors, including:

Your Oral Hygiene Routine

Your oral hygiene routine will play a big role in how long your fillings last. Brushing and flossing regularly will help keep your teeth healthy and your filling in place. 

Your Diet

The foods you eat will also play a role in the longevity of your fillings. Eating foods that are hard or chewy will increase the risk of fractures or your filling pulling away from your tooth.

We recommend avoiding or limiting:

  • Dried fruit
  • Hard candies
  • Nuts
  • Gummy foods
  • Ice

Where The Filling Is Located In Your Mouth 

Fillings that are located in the top molars will be exposed to more wear and tear than fillings applied to other teeth. These fillings may need to be replaced more often because they wear down more quickly.

Whether You Grind Your Teeth

If you grind your teeth, you increase the risk of breaking or fracturing your filling. Clenching and grinding your teeth will keep your teeth under constant strain. If you do grind your teeth, we may recommend a mouthguard to protect your fillings and your natural teeth.

With proper care, composite fillings can last 5-7 years or more. 

While composite fillings are strong and durable, there are other material options that are longer-lasting, such as:

  • Porcelain
  • Gold 

Although these materials are longer-lasting and can withstand more trauma, they do come at a higher cost.

What Materials are Used to Create Composite Fillings?

Composite fillings are made from resin, a plastic material that’s used in many dental procedures. Resin is also used to make bonding material and allows the material to bond with your natural tooth.

We use ultraviolet light to cure or harden the composite filling after it’s applied to your tooth. Because we can’t whiten or change the color of composite fillings once they’re applied, we’ll use a shade guide to find a color that matches your natural teeth.

When properly matched, the filling will be virtually invisible. 

Dental composite colour shades
Composite Shades

Final Thoughts

Fillings are one of the most common procedures performed in dentistry. Still, it’s natural for patients to be anxious or nervous about their appointment, especially if you don’t know what to expect. Fortunately, the composite fillings procedure is relatively quick and painless. 

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Dr. Gurpreet Sidhu - Dentist at Lighthouse Dental Centre and Blue Water Dental
Dr. Gurpreet Sidhu

With nearly two decades of experience, Dr. Sidhu enjoys helping his patients learn about dentistry. Knowledge is meant to be improved, challenged and shared.

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