Despite the best oral hygiene practices, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports more than 90 percent of Americans develop some level of tooth decay by the age of 65. Furthermore, 25 percent of children and more than 30 percent of adults experience dental trauma in the form of broken, chipped, or cracked teeth. In many cases, these teeth can be restored to their original shape, strength, and functionality rather than having to be replaced altogether.

Two distinct types of restoration are used: direct and indirect. Direct restorations are more commonly known as fillings. Indirect, on the other hand, includes crowns, onlays, and inlays.

Dental Fillings

As is the case with tooth extractions, your dentist will place a numbing gel on your gums, tongue, and inner cheek followed by injecting anesthetic into your gums before carrying out the filling process. After allowing about 10 minutes for the numbing to take effect, the procedure will begin. Prior to actually filling the tooth, your dentist must eliminate any decayed material.

He or she typically removes decay with the widely-recognized dental drill, but we also offer air abrasion technology. This technique uses an air jet and aluminum particles to gently blast away the decayed portion of the tooth. We’ll also remove a small amount of the remaining healthy material to ensure no decay remains.

Once we’re sure all the decay has been eliminated, we’ll fill the space left behind. At one point in history, fillings were actually made of lead. Of course, the medical world soon unearthed the dangers of this element. We now have several different options when it comes to dental filling materials with a couple being more widely used than others.

  • Amalgam: This is the least expensive choice and the easiest with which to work. Dental amalgam consists of silver, tin, zinc, and copper with mercury used to bind those metals together and create a strong bond. Though it’s malleable at first, it’ll quickly harden to provide strength and durability equal to that of your natural teeth. Amalgam also helps keep excess bacteria from forming on teeth.
  • Composites: Dental composites are made of a mixture of glass and plastic. Composite fillings are a little more expensive than those made of amalgam, but they’re less noticeable, so many people prefer them. They more closely resemble teeth in color, and we can add hues to render them an almost exact match to your natural teeth. They offer the same strength of amalgam, but they usually don’t last as long. They’re also more prone to staining from coffee, tea, nicotine, and age.

Gold, ceramic, and ionomer fillings are also available, but they’re not as popular, or practical, as the other choices. If you’re interested in one of the unconventional materials, we can discuss the pros and cons with you on an individual basis. Once we complete the filling procedure, you may need to wait a certain amount of time before eating solid foods. We’ll advise you on this matter as well, based on your specific circumstances.

Indirect Dental Restoration Options

When teeth have been damaged too badly to be filled or the location of a cavity makes filling an impractical solution, indirect restoration comes into play. Inlays are placed in the cusp of the tooth, just inside the inner edges of the chewing surface. Onlays may cover one or more tip of a tooth as well as a portion of the cusp. Crowns cover the chewing surface entirely.

Each of these can be made of gold, though this isn’t as popular as it once was. Most are now made of composites, porcelain, or ceramic with some temporary crowns being composed of stainless steel. The indirect restoration process is similar to that of a filling with a few extra components.

We’ll need to numb your gums and surrounding soft tissues with topical and injected anesthetics. Then, we’ll remove the unhealthy portion of your tooth if decay is the reason behind the procedure. From there, we’ll file the remainder of your tooth so the restoration materials will adhere to it more securely. We’ll make an impression of your tooth to be sent to a lab where your crown, inlay, or onlay will be created. After applying a sealant, and possibly a temporary crown, we’ll schedule your appointment for placement of the apparatus, and you’ll be sent home.

When you return to our office, we’ll simply need to affix the permanent onlay, inlay, or crown to your tooth using dental cement. We’ll smooth any rough or uneven areas and make sure your bite is even and comfortable. Strength and functionality will be returned while the pain you probably felt before the procedure will be eliminated.

A Viable Solution for a Variety of Situations

Direct and indirect restoration techniques are less costly and extensive alternatives when only a portion of your tooth is damaged, and we have a variety of materials available to fit your needs and budget. These procedures aren’t appropriate for everyone, but we’ll discuss your unique situation to determine which approach would be best for you. Call the Washington Center for Cosmetic Dentistry at (202) 363-2500 or send us your name and email address via our website to schedule an appointment, you can also visit our dental services page to learn more about our full scope of services provided.