One of the most common, if not the most common dental procedure is checking for cavities.
Once cavities are located they must be treated with fillings. Fillings are also called amalgams, and it’s the most common method of treatment there is.
Did you know fillings may have been around for more than 6,500 years? Some of the earliest fillings are believed to have been made from beeswax and installed after the patient was already deceased. Good thing that practice has since evolved to live patient’s right?
In the 19th century, gold, tin, and silver, were softened and fitted into the cavity of the tooth to create a feeling that covered the cavity. Later on, amalgams became more commonly used. This mix of metals blended tin, silver, mercury and copper to create a filling material that was more efficient and affordable to create.
The use of mercury was an inexpensive and easy way of making fillings. But upon the realization that these fillings were causing mercury poisoning, the method was denounced.
These days, filings are mostly made of gold, porcelain, silver and composite resin, with trace amounts of mercury used to bind the amalgam materials together. Dentists and chemists alike have concluded that using these other metals in the fillings is much safer while still providing excellent results for teeth in the process.
Here are some facts about cavities and fillings that might surprise you:
Tooth decay happens when harmful bacteria feed off food particles in your mouth and secrete an acid. This acid erodes your enamel. The same bacteria can irritate your gums with that acid, causing gingivitis. If not treated, they can infect your gums permanently.
Oh so common
The common cold is the number one disease in the United States, but tooth decay is right behind it. That means the bacteria causing cavities are widespread. Even if you are near perfect with your dental care, you can still get a cavity.
Bacteria love sugars, which is why sugary foods like soda and candy can lead to cavities. But the source of sugar doesn’t matter. If you drink lots of fruit juice, you are still coating your teeth in sugar. Carbohydrates are also a problem since they are basically a different form of sugar.
Fluoride strengthens your enamel. It can even repair microscopic damage caused by tooth decay. This is especially true with children since they are still growing.
As a cavity gets worse, the enamel can open up to the pulp inside the tooth. When the bacteria get in there, the resulting infection is very painful and requires root canal therapy to fix. Worse, the infection can get into the blood vessels there and spread to other parts of your body. What starts as a small cavity can turn into something very bad.
Bacteria can live off of almost anything. Even if you’re strictly eating healthy foods and drinks, if you’re not brushing and flossing regularly, you’re still at a higher risk of cavities.
Cavities are permanent damage to your teeth. The fillings used to replace cavities, however, are not permanent. Even if you take excellent care of your teeth, a filling will not last much longer than 10 years. That means they need to be redone or replaced with a dental crown.
If a cavity is small, a composite filling can be a perfect way to repair the damage. But when a cavity is large, there might not be enough healthy enamel left to safely hold onto the filling. In these cases, a dental crown is a much better choice.