Are your dental fillings causing tooth decay?

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A number of us fear visiting the dentist (dental phobia), we're prepared to live with unhealthy decaying teeth and suffer the worst pain to avoid a trip to the dentist's room.

Physician Martin H Fischer alluded to dental phobia when he said: “I find that most men would rather have their bellies opened for five hundred dollars than have a tooth pulled for five.”

Most people have dental fillings

If you are courageous enough to visit a dentist chances are you will get a tooth filling.

The Atlantic explains that the practice of dental fillings, to repair decayed or damaged teeth, can be traced back 6500 years ago in Slovenia, when beeswax was inserted into a tooth cavity for therapeutic purposes. Today, several dental filling materials are available - gold; porcelain; silver amalgam (which comprises mercury mixed with silver, tin, zinc, and copper); or tooth-colored plastic, composite resin fillings and glass ionomer (contains glass particles).

Read: Mercury dental fillings harmless: FDA

In the modern age dental fillings are common. A study by the Information Centre for Health and Social care showed that on average 84% of adults have at least one filling. A typical adult has an average of 7 fillings.

Although dentists recommend dental fillings, recent research published in the Journal of Dentistry claims that teeth on both sides of a new filling run the risk of decaying.

Fillings and tooth decay

After researchers from the Nordic Institute of Dental Materials in Oslo, Norway, examined 750 tooth surfaces they found that after 4.9 years on average 34% of the neighboring tooth surfaces had decay in the enamel. 27.2% had decay in the dentine (the soft tissue inside the tooth).

Of the patients whose teeth had decayed and received fillings it was found that 57.3% of the teeth surfaces still had decay in the enamel and 42.7% had progressed into dentine.

The risk of teeth which are next to the filling decaying was found to be related to how well a dentist performs the filling as well as how well a patient looks after his teeth (i.e. correct brushing, flossing, and dietary habits).

Read: Caring for your teeth - the basics

The research highlighted that dentists should be aware of the risk of teeth on both sides of the new filling decaying especially in high risk patients and were encouraged to use preventative procedures and to check the state of neighbouring teeth at every follow-up appointment.

So, should you avoid dental fillings at all costs? Dental experts from Dentistry Today argue that although restorations also have their shortcomings, in many cases they are the best available treatment for tooth decay. Patients are encouraged not to postpone or avoid necessary dental treatment.

Tooth decay can be prevented or reduced by maintaining good oral hygiene and patients and dentist should cooperate to put in place appropriate use of preventative measures.

Taking care of your teeth fillings

Health24's oral health expert, Dr Imraan Hoosen says, “Caring for your teeth whether you have fillings or not is the same.” 

He recommends regular dental visits as dentists can use x-rays to determine if the integrity of a tooth/filling is sound.

“Correct and timeous oral hygiene procedures, such as brushing and flossing, are a must,” Dr Hoosen adds.

Other dental experts also advise that foods containing carbohydrates, which are made up of sugar and starch, can cause tooth decay if left on teeth. Brushing your teeth after eating these foods will help prevent teeth decay.

Dentists William & Daily advise that after your dental filling appointment you should contact your dentist if the following happens:

1. You experience continuous pain for over 30 minutes

2. The filling feels too high.

3. You hit the filling first when you bite down.

The ideal situation is to avoid tooth decay in the first place. Physician Martin H Fischer coined this sobering quote: “If a patient cannot clean his teeth, no dentist can clean them for him.”  

If you have any questions, ask our oral health expert

Read more:

Oral health affects the whole body

Remineralisation promises pain-free tooth repair

How to keep schoolkids' teeth healthy

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