Until recently, dentists filled and sealed cavities exclusively using a silver and mercury amalgam. Unfortunately, these fillings (or restorations) often weaken teeth due to the large amount of the original tooth that has to be removed. Modern dentistry has increasingly turned to composite fillings as a strong, safe and more natural looking alternative. Composite fillings utilize a soft white plastic substance that includes a hardening agent.
The Filling Procedures
During your initial visit to the dentist, he or she begins by anesthetizing the tooth and removing any remaining decay. Once the tooth has been prepared, the dentist places the composite into the tooth where it binds to the original surface. The process is typically performed in several layers wherein each layer is cured or hardened with the use of a hardening light. Composite restorations (fillings) for the back teeth are referred to as inlays. If the inlays need to be custom-made at an off-site dental lab, two visits to the dentist may be required. Once the dental office receives the custom inlays, the patient returns to the dentist's office, where the inlays will be bonded into place.
After the Fillings Have Been Placed
Patients may have increased sensitivity in the tooth for several weeks following the procedure. Unlike veneers, composite fillings are porous. Over time, they may become stained from coffee, tea, tobacco, etc. Many dentists place a clear covering over the filling to avoid any future staining. Composite fillings typically last three to twelve years, depending on the location of the restoration, an individual's occlusion (or bite), and several other factors.