Identifying and addressing cavities early can prevent the need for more complex and costly dental procedures. If cavities are found before there has been significant decay, the tooth can be restored with a filling.
Once a tooth has a cavity, the decay will continue to spread unless the decayed area is removed and the tooth is properly restored. Leaving cavities untreated can lead to the need for more significant restorative procedures such as crowns, bridges, root canals, or dental implants.
While metal (amalgam) fillings used to be common, tooth-colored composite material is now the most recommended filling material. The composite material blends in with the natural tooth and is less noticeable than a metal filling. The tooth-colored filling is not as affected by heat and cold as the metal fillings, so the patient is less likely to experience temperature-related sensitivity.
Another important reason composite fillings have replaced amalgam fillings is that they do not use mercury, which was present in metal fillings. Many patients are choosing to have their older amalgam fillings replaced with tooth-colored fillings for this reason.
Inlays and Onlays
For larger cavities or a tooth with decay in more than one area, an inlay or onlay may be the best restorative solution. The difference between an inlay and an onlay is the area of the tooth anatomy being restored. Inlays apply to cavities in the grooves, or pits and fissures, of the tooth’s biting surface. Onlays are used when the decay includes the tooth cusps. Both are used to restore areas where tooth decay is present and the tooth structure has been compromised.
Inlays and onlays can be made with either cast gold alloy or with tooth-colored ceramic or poercelain materials. A model of the patient's natural tooth is made prior to any procedure so that the restoration can be made to replicate the shape and function of the natural tooth.
The shape and fit of the restoration can be verified before being cemented or bonded into place, and the inlay or onlay can be extremely durable.