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The difference between a filling and a root canal treatment?

Filling, white restoration, or amalgam, root canal treatment, etc. All these terms can cause confusion for some patients. It should be noted that the situations that require these interventions can vary, but they are often times due to the development of dental caries. In any case, it is the dentist who determines which care is most appropriate according to your situation. Find out in this article, the difference between a filling and root canal treatment, their causes and what these two treatments consist of.

What is tooth decay?

Tooth decay is a problem of the dentition that can occur at any age. It is actually a hole in the tooth. This hole can develop and become so deep that it reaches the nerve of the tooth. Of course, it is better to prevent this when possible. For this reason, cleanings and dental appointments are recommended at least once a year.

Ideally, visits to your dental clinic should be every six months. This allows your dentist to quickly detect the onset of dental caries and act before the situation worsens or leads to a dental emergency.

How do dental caries form?

Tooth decay can be due to three main factors. Firstly, diet plays an important role in the health of your teeth. Sugar is the number one ally of decay. Of course, sugar is in many foods. We must therefore be vigilant and try to find a balanced sugar consumption.

This brings us to the second factor that can cause tooth decay: dental hygiene. Hygienists and dentists say that dental hygiene is crucial for the health of your mouth. It allows you to slow down or prevent the development of dental caries.

Brushing your teeth two to three times a day and flossing will protect your enamel from acidity and reduce the risk of plaque development.

Finally, the last factor that can cause decay is the nature of your dentition. Indeed, some patients may have more fragile and a less resistant dentition when it comes to the development of cavities.

This dental fragility can be associated with dental genetics. Visits to the dentist then become essential as a preventive measure and to ensure close follow-up regarding the hygiene and health of your teeth.

Moreover, during your cleaning, your hygienist may apply a fluoride varnish that strengthens the enamel of your teeth. Your dentist may also recommend the consumption of certain foods that help reduce the creation of cavities. Ask your dentist about this.

Stages of dental caries development

Caries develop rapidly. Patients believe that caries only exist when pain occurs. However, this is not true. Tooth decay does not usually cause symptoms until the tooth breaks or the decay reaches the nerve of the tooth.

At this point, the cavity is very advanced and it is best to make an emergency appointment with your dentist. If there is constant pain in contact with hot and cold, it is recommended to make an appointment quickly, do not wait for the situation to worsen.

There are four stages of tooth decay that indicate the severity of tooth decay. First, tooth decay only attacks the enamel of the tooth. At this point, patients are not aware of the presence of caries as no pain is felt.

In the second stage, the tooth decay reaches the dentin. Already at this stage sensitivity to cold and hot can be noticed. The dentist must then remove the decayed part of the tooth, clean the tooth and re-fill to protect the tooth. In this situation an amalgam or composite (white) filling may be recommended.

In the third stage, the pain becomes sharp and can even become permanent. Caries affects the nerve of the tooth (the dental pulp) and a toothache occurs. The tooth will certainly need to be treated by the dentist. In this situation a root canal treatment will be recommended.

When the caries attacks the nerve in the tooth, we have reached the final stage. A dental abscess develops and this may require extraction of the tooth. This is why it is recommended to consult a dentist regularly for tests and to contact your clinic quickly when you experience pain. You then reduce the risk of reaching this fourth stage.

Filling: amalgam or composite?

When a cavity is detected, your dentist will explain to you that he will have to intervene to heal your tooth. Depending on the stage of caries, different types of materials may be recommended.

As explained above, the second stage of tooth decay, which corresponds to dentin damage, requires the placement of a material to replace the portion of the decayed tooth structure that will be removed by the dentist.

What is a filling?

This procedure allows the dentist to remove the decayed tooth structure and clean the tooth before filling. Thus, the filling blocks the access to bacteria that could previously enter the tooth through the development of caries.

Once the filling is complete, the dentist polishes and adjusts the new tooth surface. In this way, he ensures that the patient’s comfort is preserved and that the chewing is as effective as before the formation of the caries.

What is ceramic restoration?

In addition to different types of fillings, it should be noted that a ceramic restoration may also be an option. This is necessary when a tooth is damaged (crack, fracture) or when a previous filling is problematic. The material used is ceramic and the dentist will sculpt it to compensate for the missing part of the affected tooth.

What about a root canal treatment?

Root canal treatment is different from filling: it is the intervention required when the caries is at stage three. The decay has evolved and a simple filling will not solve the problem since the decay has reached the nerve of the tooth.

What is a root canal treatment?

The root canal treatment, as its name implies, consists in cleaning the root canals of the damaged tooth. First, the dentist will prepare a hole on the top of the tooth, to gain access to the center of the tooth where the nerve is.

Then, when the cleaning of the canals is completed, the dentist obturates and fills the canals. If your root canal treatment is performed by an endodontist, the endodontist may perform a temporary filling and your tooth will be restored by your dentist or prosthodontist.

What is an endodontist?

The endodontist is an expert who has undergone an additional 2-years of training to specialize in performing root canal treatment or any problems concerning the nerve or bone near your dental roots. He is the expert to consult for more serious or complex cases.

What problems may require root canal treatment?

In general, a root canal treatment or endodontics is performed when the nerve of the tooth is damaged, dead or when an abscess has developed.

A root canal treatment is sometimes the only option apart from tooth extraction, which is not desirable because of the many disadvantages it can cause (among others; the movement of the teeth to compensate for the absence of the tooth).

Root Canal Treatment and Children?

Root canal treatment is also carried out in children. Usually, as of 3 years old an intervention is possible if needed. When we talk about a root canal treatment on a primary tooth, it is a pulpotomy or pulpectomy, depending on the type of problem of the pulp (nerve).

Keep in mind

Do not hesitate to contact your dental clinic if you detect an abnormality or if you notice that one of your teeth is more sensitive to hot and cold and/or is painful. The faster the dentist intercepts your problem, the more you reduce the risk of your tooth decay developing to the final stage.


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