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How do I know if I need a filling?

Catching a tooth that needs a filling early can save you a lot of time and money. The filling itself acts as a ‘plug’ when part of the original structure has been lost due to things such as teeth decay or trauma.  Tooth decay is a bacteria-driven process that erodes the minerals in your teeth, making them weaker. Over time the bacteria travels through the layers of the tooth, the harder outer enamel shell and the softer inner dentine to cause deeper breakdown of the tooth, resulting in a hole.

The purpose of a filling – or what dentists tend to call a “restoration” – is to “restore” a tooth to how it should look and function.  Regular check-ups with your dentist can locate and target areas that are in the early stages of erosion.

It’s important to be aware of the warning signs of needing a filling so you can maintain control of your dental health and make appointments when necessary if symptoms progress.

Warning signs of needing a filling

  • Achy teeth: These may come as sharp pains, dull aches, or general tooth aches.
  • Rough on your tongue: If you run your tongue across the tooth and feel jagged edges that weren’t there before this may be a sign that the inside of the tooth is eroding.
  • You can see the problem: If you look at or in your mouth and a hole is visible, this is a sure sign that something is wrong.
  • It’s painful to chew: If applying any pressure to the tooth causes pain or discomfort it may mean that the tooth is losing stability in your mouth.
  • Flossing fissures: When you floss your teeth, the strand should come out whole. When you start to see the floss becoming frayed after your gentle flossing at home this may be a sign that the tooth is becoming sharp and jagged pointing to tooth decay.

Why are fillings important?

When administered early, a filling prevents the progression of tooth decay so that bacteria do not reach the middle of the tooth where the nerve and blood vessels are. Often if you feel pain or already have a hole, the tooth decay is more severe and closer to the nerve. This causes inflammation of the nerve and blood vessels which can eventually lead to death of the nerve and tooth. If that happens, you may require more complicated treatment such as an extraction or root canal treatment.

Not everyone will experience the symptoms of needing a filling

Not everyone will feel pain or have a hole in their tooth before they need a filling. That is why it is important to go to a dentist for a regular comprehensive check-up. At a check-up, the dentist will examine the whole of your mouth – including your tongue, cheeks, gums and jaws – before looking at your teeth. They may take X-rays and perform other tests to help diagnose decay and other oral conditions. The X-rays allow visualisation of the teeth in cross-section, and any dark spots can indicate decay that we might not be able to see with our eyes. If the decay is deep enough, you may be told that it requires a filling to prevent the decay going deeper.

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