Nargiz I. Zadeh, DMD
General, Cosmetic, and Implant Dentistry
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When is a Filling the Right Choice for a Cavity?

June 3, 2021
Posted By: Nargiz Zadeh, DMD

There are two main reasons patients schedule to see the dentist: 1) a hygiene appointment or, 2) the more dreaded—a cavity filling. When a dentist diagnoses the presence of cavities (also referred to as caries or decay) within your teeth – yay!! It’s time for a filling! Right?. 


Well, maybe. But maybe not! There are some occasions when cavities may not need to be filled immediately, and  other cases where a filling alone would be insufficient to restore the tooth function. So then, how does your dentist decide when a filling is the right choice, and what are the other options on the table? Let's start by examining what fillings—not the kind in cookies and cakes—are and why dentists rely on them so much, then explore the different paths your treatment might take. 


The Purpose of Fillings: Why Dentists Use Them


Knowing when fillings are right call starts with understanding why dentists use them. When acid created by bacteria naturally present in our mouths eats away healthy tooth structure, it creates a hole in the enamel of your teeth, exposing the sensitive inner parts of the tooth. Left unchecked, that bacteria continues to produce acid, degrading more tooth structure until a tunnel forms to the center of the tooth that houses the nerve, commonly called the pulp. At this point, the bacteria has straight-line access down the nerve to the root of the tooth, and ultimately into the jaw bone. It’s the equivalent of a defensive lineman in football bullrushing through the opposing offensive line on his way to the quarterback. Just like a dreaded quarterback sack, bacteria’s relentless attack through the tooth’s protection can lead to a big loss in the form of serious infections that can turn into painful abscesses and potentially even total tooth-loss. 


So where does a filling come in to play? A filling is that extra blocker that steps in and prevents the bacteria from successfully getting a sack. By removing the decayed portion of the tooth before it has gotten too close to the pulp and replacing it with a specially formulated material, your dentist stops decay in its tracks and provides the tooth with a fighting chance to heal and strengthen again.


When Is a Filling Not Necessary?


In the past, it was always considered best practice to restore a cavity right away with a filling upon initial detection. The logic was simple: why risk continued decay when you could remove the problem immediately? However, now we know that cavities localized to the hard outer enamel — the tooth’s first line of defense — can often take years to progress if not at all.


"Incipient cavities," or surface-level demineralization of the enamel, have not yet penetrated to the second, much softer layer known as the dentin of the tooth. As a result, there are times when a dentist may choose to use products such as sealants, fluoride, and good old-fashioned oral hygiene instructions to try to prevent the cavity from growing worse. 


Why Your Dentist Will Choose To Treatment Plan a Filling


When you go in for a dental examination, you should trust in a dentist that won't diagnose unnecessary procedures with an overly-aggressive mindset. Your dentist should determine whether a filling will be the right choice based on numerous diagnostic techniques, including a visual examination considered alongside basic dental x-rays and experience in reading them. If she concludes that the decay process has progressed too far, she will let you know that a filling will be the right choice. As always, never hesitate to ask for more information.


In the meantime, you can reduce the risk of cavity development not only by using fluoride toothpaste and mouthwash, but by learning proper brushing and flossing techniques. Many individuals still overlook the value of flossing — don't be one of them! A good home oral healthcare routine can help you avoid more serious cavities throughout your life.


Where To Look for Help With Fighting Tooth Decay


With a proactive approach to your dental health, you can keep the worst effects of tooth decay at bay while enjoying a healthier smile. When decay does develop, acting swiftly is an important step. Dr Nargiz I. Zadeh provides an extensive range of dental services, including cleanings, sealants, fillings, and more. When you choose to visit our office, you will find a comfortable and modern space where you can feel at ease while exploring the solutions most suited to your dental health needs. To learn more or to schedule a consultation, don't hesitate to contact us today.


Testimonial from Amanda, Tarzana Resident and Patient


Dr. Zadeh did an amazing job on my fillings. She is very nice and gentle. I highly recommend her!