Ouch! Got a sore tooth? It could be a cavity. And of course, you want to take care of your dental health, but in the last year you might have been avoiding nonessential medical treatments. We’ll help you get to know all your options when it comes to cavity treatment, how to choose appropriate dental insurance and caring for your safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.
What Are Cavities?
The Mayo Clinic offers this definition: “Cavities are decayed areas of your teeth that develop into tiny openings or holes.1” Because that’s a medical definition, it sounds boring and, well, clinical. But many of us know that actually having a cavity can be painful, impacting your daily life.
How Do Cavities Form?
Have a cavity? If yes, you’re not alone — 91% of adults have had at least one cavity, according to the American Dental Association2. Cavities are the result of dental caries, otherwise known as tooth decay. And tooth decay typically starts when bacteria in your mouth attack the surfaces of your teeth.
The simplest way to keep tooth decay from happening is brushing your teeth3, ideally after you eat, but at least twice a day, and flossing daily. The frequency is important. The bacteria that can lead to decay start damaging your teeth quickly (in about a day) and the decay can accelerate the longer you wait to clean your teeth.
I Have a Cavity Already — What Now?
The most common treatment for an existing cavity is a dental filling. Getting a cavity filled is not a lot of fun, but it’s much better than losing a tooth and needing an implant. Fillings are fairly routine and have been around for more than 150 years. Often the biggest decision your dentist will ask you to make is what material you want the filling to be made from. Your most available options are amalgam, resin and porcelain.
Guardian Direct reminds us that each kind of filling has benefits and caveats, so it’s worth your time to learn at least a little bit about how the different materials work so you can make the right choice for you.
Formerly known as “silver” fillings because of their color, amalgam fillings are actually made from a mixture of 50% mercury plus a blend of alloy metals like silver, tin and copper4. The benefits are that amalgam fillings bond to teeth well (so they are less likely to fall out), and they are inexpensive compared to the other filling materials.
Two main factors that might influence your decision about amalgam fillings: First, because they are metal, they do not blend into the appearance of the tooth. Second, some individuals can be sensitive to the metals in the filling. Although the current evidence does not associate adverse health effects from the mercury in dental fillings in the general population, the American Dental Association recommends awareness for certain populations4, including pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems. Always ask your dentist if you have any concerns.
Resin-Based Composite Fillings
Many people are choosing tooth-colored fillings made from a resin-based composite when they need to have a cavity filled. Composite fillings are made from a type of plastic (acrylic resin), reinforced with powdered glass or quartz filler. Resin-based fillings are appealing for several reasons, according to Guardian Direct. They blend in with the rest of your teeth, do not include metals that could be released into your system and are more affordable than porcelain (but still more expensive than amalgam).
There are a few disadvantages to consider with composite fillings. They take longer for the dentist to place them, so you’ll be in the chair longer. They also might not bond with the tooth as well as amalgam. Finally, resin composites are not as durable or long-lasting as amalgam, which could lead to fracture or need for sooner replacement.
Porcelain Fillings: Durable but Pricey
Another option is porcelain fillings, which are extremely durable and stain resistant. Not many patients choose porcelain, however, because they are rather expensive and rarely covered by insurance. They are still an option, of course.
Electricity: The Future of Cavity Treatment?
Getting a filling is not something that any of us look forward to, but to this day it is almost the only option when you have a cavity. But that could be changing. Research in the last decade is pointing to some new ways to heal teeth without the need for drills or filling the cavity with outside materials. In 2014, King's College London created a technique they call Electrically Accelerated and Enhanced Remineralization (EAER)5. That’s a very long name for a straightforward procedure. First, the damaged enamel is cleaned and prepared just like it would be for a filling. Then, the dentist applies a mixture of minerals to the surface of the tooth — minerals that would normally be used by the body to grow new enamel — and low-level electrical current is added to accelerate the healing.
This might sound familiar: If you’ve had a muscle or bone injury, you might have had experience with e-stim devices, which send a low electrical current into living tissue to help boost the natural healing process. EAER is the same, only in the teeth. It would be a breakthrough if the research bears out and clinical trials are successful, relieving millions of the fear of dentist drills. It could also prevent a common cycle of larger fillings as our teeth change and older fillings degrade or chip.
COVID-19 Safety: It’s Safe to Get Dental Care
It is important not to delay needed dental care, including fillings and preventive cleanings. Thankfully, there is good evidence showing that it’s safe to go to your dentist, even now.As an article by Healthline points out, dentists have always been sensitive to infection control and have been pioneers when it comes to using “universal precautions.” Because dental offices are already practicing protective safety procedures, the rate of COVID-19 infections in dentistry has been far lower than other medical professions. Of course, if you have been recently exposed to someone with COVID-19, or if you are sick, do not visit your dentist.
Know Your Cavity Options for a Bright Smile
No matter what, make sure you have dental insurance that will help you care for your smile. Whether it’s getting that routine care you’ve been putting off, having a new cavity filled or even an old filling replaced, dental insurance can help you reduce the out-of-pocket costs of keeping your mouth healthy. VSP Individual Vision Plans partners with Guardian Direct Dental Insurance to help provide you with a dental insurance option to get the dental care coverage you need.