Dental Fillings, When to Change Them
When would you need to change your dental fillings?
Dental fillings, over time, have a tendency to, well…wear down…like most things. Your consistent chewing force, the eating of hard foods, heat and cold, and even your night-time habits all contribute to how fast or slow your fillings wear down and break.
They can last from a couple of years to a decade, or more. Some I’ve seen come through here have been going strong for twice as long as I’ve been around. As far as I’ve seen though, that type of case is a rarity. Longevity, with regards to dental fillings, has a lot to do with how well your own dental hygiene is, your eating habits, whether or not you grind your teeth at night or clench during the day. How you take care of your teeth, basically, partially determines how long these dental fillings will last.
Obviously, throughout the day, you eat and drink various foods and liquids. Some are hot, some are cold, and some are temperate. These varying degrees of temperature make fillings (seen mostly with amalgam fillings) expand and contract. This semi-constant temperature cycle has an affect on the teeth that have those dental fillings. Because the fillings themselves are pretty solid (the amalgam fillings are made of metal, inclusive of mercury), this expansion and contraction can cause teeth to crack, break, or more mildly, cause micro-cracks in the teeth which, of course, weaken them structurally.
Another problem with aging fillings is, the area around the fillings begins to open. There are obvious problems with regard to a sealed tooth no longer having that tight seal. Bacteria love those little nooks and crannies around the dental fillings, and will be delighted to begin the same process that prompted you to get the fillings in the first place, all over again. This time, however, because the bacteria are already past the hardest part of your tooth (the enamel) they’ll be going a bit faster with your dentin (the second layer of the tooth). If they get through that (which is a lot softer than enamel) you can consider the root of the tooth infected and you may need to get a root canal done at that point. It’s not too fun.
The dentist has tools to help determine whether the dental fillings you have in your mouth need replacing. They’ll check to see if there are openings around the fillings using x-rays and a dental pick, in some cases (but far more rarely) the dentist will use a type of diagnostic laser which will help them tell how deep a cavity is and whether certain fillings are sealing existing cavities well enough. If a cavity has an old filling, it may not be sealed well enough to prevent more and more bacteria, food particles, and other nasty things getting into them.
When you break off a part of a filling, this is also a sign you need to change them, and on a pretty immediate basis at that. You can often tell when you break off part of a filling, either because food is getting stuck in that tooth, right where the broken part of the filling was, or you’d be able to feel it with your tongue.
Don’t wait to replace worn dental fillings. If they are obviously worn down, you feel chips or see cracks, if you keep getting food stuck in teeth where old fillings are, please, get them replaced. If you wait, in the long run, it will take more time, effort, and money to handle the damage caused by a bad (old and worn down) filling that’s left uncared for. Because of the fact that the tooth is already drilled, and therefore open, it’s far more susceptible to the bacterial environment in your mouth.
So, keep an eye on those old fillings. If you feel or see that they are opening or chipped, if food is sticking in spaces around a filling, or if you start experiencing pain in that area, go get the filling checked and if need be, get it replaced. I would strongly recommend that. Also, maintain regular dental checkups to ensure they catch any worn fillings before they cause more damage to your tooth.
Here’s a short ADA document backing us up here.
Stay healthy my friends.