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"If your dentist finds a cavity, you’ll probably need to schedule a filling. Learn why this procedure is less fearsome than ever before with Groupon’s exploration of dental fillings.
Dental Fillings: Getting Better Over Time
One minute there’s a hole in your tooth, and the next minute it’s gone. That’s certainly an oversimplification of how dental fillings get rid of cavities and stop tooth decay, but with modern methods, getting a cavity filled is nearly that simple and fast.
It’s not entirely clear when fillings began to be used in dental repair, but people experimented with just about any tough but malleable material they could find at first. The Civil War in particular was a period of great dental experimentation in the U.S., when it was common for fillings to be made of tin, silver, gold, or metal amalgams; attempts were also made with lead and asbestos. In 2012, archaeologists even discovered what appears to be a filling made of beeswax on a 6,500-year-old jawbone. Of all those early materials, only gold and metal amalgams—usually a mix of liquid mercury and metal alloy—have survived to the present day, with metal amalgams now in use for more than 150 years. Though the safety of elemental mercury in amalgam fillings has been debated, the FDA says that such fillings are safe for anyone older than 6, adding that the material is less toxic than methylmercury, the form of mercury found in some fish.
Besides metal amalgams, the most popular option today is composite resin fillings made from a plastic that can be matched to the shade of the surrounding tooth. After a dentist uses a drill to remove the decay that bacteria has caused in the tooth and makes room for the filling, he or she fills it with the amalgam or resin compound, then smooths it out and sets it with a special curing light that helps it harden, sealing the hole and stopping the decay from encroaching farther. The dentist also shapes the filling to match the tooth’s regular anatomy before polishing it and checking that the patient’s normal bite isn’t compromised and that she or he didn’t accidentally make a little metal fang. "
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