An estimated 175 million fillings are performed each year, according to the American Dental Association (ADA). Dental fillings go back nearly 13,000 years when humans used materials like bitumen mixed with hairs and plants to create rudimentary fillings. Due to recent advancements in dental technology, modern fillings are safe and highly resilient. Fillings can be found in silver amalgam, composite resin, porcelain, or gold.
On average, dental fillings should last a decade or more. However, there are times when fillings break or fall out prematurely. Here’s a look at some of the top causes of lost fillings and what to do if you lose a filling.
Causes of Lost Fillings
To fill a cavity, a dentist will first remove the decay in the tooth, followed by a thorough cleaning before the filling material is inserted. Once the tooth is filled, it should function as normal. New fillings generally last between five and fifteen years, depending on the level of oral care received. After a filling starts to deteriorate, it may need to be replaced.
While dental fillings are strong, they can break or fall out on occasion. Some of the most common causes of lost fillings include the following:
- Severe Decay – Cavities can form in teeth that have received fillings in the past. As the decay worsens, tooth structure is lost and the remaining natural tooth may not be sufficient to support the filling. In this case, the patient will usually require a crown to hold the tooth together.
- Excess Pressure – Undue pressure put on a dental filling, such as from chewing hard foods or grinding teeth, can cause the filling to break or fall out. When this happens, it is usually painless and the patient may not even realize that the filling has fallen out.
- Seal Failure – Seals are needed around the filling to adhere the filling to the natural tooth structure. When these seals weaken, it can cause food debris, plaque, and other bacteria to invade the tooth. Over time, the tooth may suffer from further decay and even infection.
Treatment for Lost Filling
Losing a dental filling is not a major emergency but it should be dealt with promptly. Contact your dental office as soon as possible to let them know what happened. Most dentists have time set aside each day to deal with these types of situations and should get you in fairly quickly. If you can’t be seen right away, ask for advice on how to protect your exposed tooth from damage.
Keep the filling if you have it. The dentist will determine if it can be reused. If you have lost a crown, your dentist may be able to reuse it. While waiting for your appointment, gargle with salt water to remove any food debris and help keep the area clean.
Continue to practice good oral hygiene habits, which include brushing the area gently. Until the tooth is fixed, avoid chewing on the side with the lost filling. A temporary filling material or dental wax can be purchased over-the-counter as a temporary solution until you can have your tooth repaired by a professional.
Once you arrive at your appointment, your dentist will examine the tooth and may take an x-ray to determine the best solution. Potential treatments for a lost filling include:
- New Filling – If there is enough natural tooth structure left, your dentist may recommend a new filling. If the lost filling is on a back tooth, an amalgam (silver) filling may be a suitable choice. Tooth-colored composite is ideal for front teeth.
- Root Canal – If there is a deep cavity or exposure to the tooth nerve, your dentist may refer you to a specialist for a root canal and crown.
- Tooth Extraction – The loss of a filling can occasionally result in a tooth extraction. This is usually only an option if the tooth has suffered extensive damage and cannot be repaired.
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No filling will last forever. If you have a filling that has fallen out, contact us today to schedule an appointment.