Determining If You Need a Filling

Determining If You Need a Filling

Your dentist may use several methods to determine if you have tooth decay, including:

  • Observation — Some discolored spots on your teeth may indicate decay, but not all of them. Your dentist will use an explorer, a metal instrument with a sharp tip, to probe for possible decay. Healthy tooth enamel is hard and will resist pressure by the explorer. Decayed enamel is softer. The instrument will stick in it slightly. Explorers should be used with caution. Pressing too hard with an explorer can damage a healthy tooth.
  • Cavity-detecting dye — This can be rinsed over your tooth. It will stick to decayed areas and rinse cleanly
  • X-rays — X-rays can help your dentist see decay that doesn't show on the surface. However, X-rays are often not accurate in detecting smaller cavities. Current fillings or other restorations also can block the view of decay.

Decay is not the only reason you may need a filling. Other reasons include:

  • Cracked or broken teeth
  • Teeth that are worn from unusual use, such as:


Tooth grinding (bruxism)

Using your teeth to open things