4 Signs you Need a Dental Filling

dental fillingRoyal Oak and Birmingham, MI

Occasionally, teeth get small holes in them. Usually, it’s because of an abundance of lactic acid in the mouth. Lactic acid is produced by the bacteria Streptococcus mutans, which naturally occurs in the mouth and is nourished by compounds that chemists identify as “sugars”, including lactose (found in milk and dairy products), glucose (found in most starches), fructose (found in fruits), and sucrose (found in table sugar).

The lactic acid produced by s. mutans causes a process called demineralization in the enamel (the hard white outer coating of the teeth). Ions in saliva trigger remineralization, but if too much bacteria is present, the wearing can outpace the restoration. This can lead to pits, and then holes, in the enamel, exposing the interior tissue of the tooth (called dentin) to the acid, which can then wear away and expose the nerve. The result is a decayed tooth and, likely, accompanying pain.

When a cavity is just beginning to form, an increase in fluoride can reverse the decay, so the dentist may recommend a fluoride treatment in a cavity’s early stages. Past a certain point, however, the dentist will recommend a filling. A filling, as its name implies, will fill in the small hole in the tooth (cavity). Depending on where the cavity is, the filling may be made of silver alloy (more often found in the back teeth) or a tooth-colored composite resin (usually in the front teeth).

Early on, cavities may go completely unnoticed since they tend to hurt only when the decay has moved into the dentin itself, which is fairly far along in the cavity’s progress. Here are four signs that a cavity is forming and that a filling may be needed:

Visible to the naked eye

If a tooth begins to show a spot (most often black or brown) that does not go away after brushing or flossing, it’s likely a cavity, and it may be time to visit the dentist.

A chipped tooth can often cause the same risks as a cavity: a hole left by the chipped-off piece may go into the dentin, allowing for access to the nerve. Even if this isn’t the case, a chipped tooth often collects bacteria and acid, so if it does not immediately have the same consequences as a cavity, it still might in the future. Even a chipped tooth that does not hurt, cause discomfort from sharp edges, or alter the appearance will likely be a candidate for a filling or dental bonding – a process by which a dentist uses resin to fill the hole and then reshapes the tooth.


A cavity causes a hole in the outer, protective layer of the tooth, whose function is to protect the dental nerve. With a cavity, the dental nerve is more exposed to temperature variations. Hot or cold food and beverages – even breathing in very cold air – can cause discomfort. Dental sensitivity (especially if it suddenly appears or gets more intense over time) may indicate a cavity and the need for a filling.

Dental pain

The most common sign of a dental cavity is tooth pain. Sometimes this can happen randomly; other times, it can have certain triggers, like eating sweets, clinching teeth or consuming hot or cold food and beverages. If this happens consistently, it may be a symptom of a cavity.

Food or floss consistently stuck in the same spot

Everyone gets food stuck in their teeth from time to time, and it is not uncommon for floss (especially of the woven variety) to fragment or tear. But if food continually gets stuck in one particular place, or if the floss regularly tears in a specific spot, it might be a signal of enamel that is roughened by a cavity.

What to do next

Anyone who suspects a cavity should call a dentist to schedule an exam. After a thorough cleaning, visual inspection and x-ray, the dentist can determine if a cavity exists and, if so, will recommend the best way to treat it. Hartrick Dentistry provides dental treatments for patients of all ages in the Royal Oak area. Dr. Nancy Hartrick has nearly 30 years of dental experience. Schedule an appointment online or by calling 248-712-1149.

Posted in General Dentistry