What you need to know about fillings

Ensuring teeth health: Dentists will recommend a filling when the tooth has been damaged by a break or tooth decay. Pictures: Shutterstock.
Ensuring teeth health: Dentists will recommend a filling when the tooth has been damaged by a break or tooth decay. Pictures: Shutterstock.

The dentist can trigger horrible memories for many people, and with just 10 per cent of Australian's reporting they've never experienced any tooth decay, it's no wonder why.

The latest research indicates that 77.4 per cent of Australians (15 years and older) have had at least one filling in their lives.

Australian Dental Association oral health promoter and general dentist Dr Mikaela Chinotti said fillings are used to restore teeth to their natural structure by fixing issues usually caused by tooth decay.

Getting a filling might be an unpleasant experience, but they can prevent the need for complex and expensive treatment.

Fillings are made from a synthetic material that replaces the missing tooth structure. In the past, fillings were made from amalgam (metal/silver).

While they are not commonly used today, it doesn't mean they need to replaced simply because of the material.

Damaging: Sugar is the main contributor to tooth decay. A healthy diet with good nutrition supports oral health.

Damaging: Sugar is the main contributor to tooth decay. A healthy diet with good nutrition supports oral health.

"Amalgam fillings are no longer used as commonly; this is not because the filling material is not effective or can cause negative health effects," Dr Chinotti said.

"People who already have amalgam fillings in their teeth should not have these fillings removed and replaced without reason.

"If people are concerned about amalgam fillings, they should talk to their dentist."

Fillings, no matter the material they are made from, do not last forever and need to be replaced, but this increases their size.

"Each time a filling is replaced, it ends up being slightly bigger than the previous one," Dr Chinotti said.

Fillings are used to return teeth to their natural shape for various reasons like chips or breaks, but tooth decay is the main reason for fillings.

"The tooth structure may be lost due to the formation of tooth decay or fracturing or breaking a tooth," Dr Chinotti said.

"Tooth structure cannot grow back, it must instead be replaced by a man-made material."

If a dentist recommends a filling, it is best to go ahead with the treatment as more complex issues can arise if the problem is not dealt with early.

"If the tooth decay is not removed, it can get worse over time and lead to the development of pain and/or infection," Dr Chinotti said.

"This then requires larger, more complex treatments to treat the tooth."

However, it is possible to avoid fillings altogether by practising good oral hygiene and seeing a dentist regularly.

Several factors increase the risk of developing tooth decay and increase the likelihood of needing a filling.

"Sugar is one of the greatest factors contributing to the development of tooth decay," Dr Chinotti said.

"The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends people consume six teaspoons/24 grams or less of free sugar per day.

"This means sugars added to foods and drinks during manufacturing like pasta sauces, breakfast cereals and fruit yoghurts, as well as the sugar found in honey, syrups and fruit juice."

TOP TIPS

Avoid fillings by taking good care of your oral health. Key steps to keep both teeth and gums healthy include:

  • Brush teeth twice a day using a fluoride toothpaste
  • Clean between the teeth daily with floss
  • Eat a nutritious diet low in free sugars
  • Visit a dentist regularly. Tooth decay in its very early stages can sometimes be stopped from progressing. This can mean a filling can be avoided. This is why regular dental examinations are important as your dentist can detect the tooth decay when just it's starting to develop.
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