There are a number of different treatments for cavities depending on the extent of tooth decay. If decay is not extensive, the decayed portion of the tooth is removed by drilling and replaced with a filling made of silver alloy, gold, porcelain, or a composite resin. Materials used in fillings are considered safe. Concerns have been raised over the safety of mercury-based, silver amalgams in particular, but the American Dental Association (ADA), FDA, and other public health agencies continue to support the safety of this restorative material. Allergies to silver amalgam are rare as are allergies to other restorative materials.
If the tooth decay is extensive and there is limited tooth structure remaining, crowns will be used. If a crown is needed, the decayed or weakened area of the tooth is removed and repaired and a crown is fitted over the remainder of the tooth. Crowns are made from gold, porcelain, or porcelain fused to metal.
If the decay causes the nerve or pulp of the tooth to die, a root canal will be performed. During a root canal, the center of the tooth (including the nerve, blood vessel, and tissue) is removed along with the decayed portions of the tooth. The roots are then filled with a sealing material. If necessary, a crown can be placed over the filled tooth.
Several new cavity treatments are under development. One experimental technique uses fluorescent light to detect the development of cavities long before they can be detected by traditional means, such as x-rays or a dental exam. In many cases, if cavities can be detected early, the tooth decay process can be stopped or reversed.
Researchers are also working on a "smart filling" to prevent further tooth decay by slowly releasing fluoride over time around fillings and in adjacent teeth.
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