Tooth Filling

Dental fillings are what a dentist use to fill cavities (small holes) in teeth caused by tooth decay. Additionally, they can also be used to repair cracks and fractures in teeth.

What to Expect When Getting a Dental Filling

To begin the procedure, the dentist will numb the area around the affected tooth with a local anesthetic. The dentist will then use a drill, air abrasion instrument or a laser to remove the decayed area. The choice of instrument will depend on the dentist, their comfort level, training, and investment in the particular piece of equipment used, as well as where the decay is located and how much is present.

Did you know that the average American has 3 dental fillings, while 25% of the population have 11 or more?

After testing the affected area and determining all decay has been removed, the dentist will then prepare for the filling by cleaning the space of all debris and bacteria. If the decay was present near the root, the dentist may first put in a liner to protect the nerves found in the root. After your filling is in, the dentist will shape and polish it.

If receiving a resin composite filling there may be extra steps that will be required. Resin composite may be applied in layers and cured (hardened) between each layer. Once the dentist has completed the resin composite filling, it will then be shaped, trimmed and polished to the desired result.

How Long do Dental Fillings Last?

Dental fillings are durable but do not last forever. Metal fillings usually last about 10 to 15 years, resin composite fillings last five to seven years, porcelain fillings can last beyond 15 years, and glass ionomer lasts five years or less.

What are Dental Fillings Made of?

There are several options for dental fillings. Teeth can be filled with gold, silver amalgam (mercury mixed with silver, tin, zinc and copper), porcelain, glass ionomer, or tooth-colored plastic materials called resin composite fillings.

The location, amount of decay, cost of filling material, the dentist’s recommendation and insurance coverage all play a role in the type of filling that will be best for the patient.

What are the Pros and Cons of Metal vs. Composite Resin Fillings?

Pros of a Metal Tooth Filling

  • Proven to work: Amalgam fillings have been used for over a century.
  • Cost-effective: Amalgam generally costs less than resin composite fillings.
  • Long-lasting: These types of fillings usually last 10 to 15 years.
  • Resistant: Metal fillings are resistant to damage from chewing and grinding.
  • Gold: Gold will last 10 to 15 years without any fear of corrosion, but cost up to 10x more than silver amalgam. Gold also requires at least two office visits to place.

Cons of a Metal Tooth Filling

  • Noticeable: Unlike composite fillings, metal fillings are hard to miss when you open your mouth wide.
  • Allergies: Some people are sensitive to the metals in amalgam.
  • Larger: The filling size is larger than a resin composite filling.

Pros of a Composite Resin Tooth Filling

  • Virtually invisible: Resin composite fillings are tooth-colored, so they blend in.
  • Easy Adhesion: Resin can be bonded to the surface of your tooth.
  • Preserves the maximum amount of tooth: The flexibility of resin composite means that less drilling of the tooth is required.
  • Allergies: Resin composite fillings have fewer allergy concerns tied to them.
  • Versatility: In addition to being used as a filling, resin composite can also be used to fix cracked, chipped, broken or worn-down teeth.

Cons of a Composite Resin Tooth Filling

  • More frequent replacement: The life expectancy of a resin composite filling is five to seven years. That is half the lifetime of an amalgam filling.
  • Longer process: The process of placing a resin composite filling takes more time than when placing a metal filling.
  • Sensitivity: Many times there is more post-operative sensitivity than that of a metal filling.
  • Additional visits: If resin composite is used as an inlay or onlay, more than one office visit may be necessary.
  • Cost: Resin Composite can cost up to twice the amount of silver amalgam.

How Should I Care for my Teeth with Fillings?

To maintain teeth with fillings, they should be taken care of just like the other teeth.

If the dentist suspects a filling may be cracked or “leaking” (when the sides of the filling do not fit within the tooth and saliva and debris can seep in between the filling and the tooth), they will take x-rays to assess the situation and create a treatment plan to fix the problem.

If a tooth with a filling becomes extremely sensitive, has a sharp edge, or a crack can be visibly seen, call the dentist immediately and schedule an appointment to address the problem.

Are Silver Amalgam Fillings Safe?

Over the last several years, many concerns have been raised around the use of silver amalgam fillings because of mercury used when constructing them.

Although silver amalgam fillings do contain mercury, when mixed with other metals such as silver, copper, tin and zinc, they form a stable alloy that dentists have been using for more than 100 years.

What is a Temporary Tooth Filling and Why Would I Need One?

Temporary fillings may be used when more than one appointment is required to fill a cavity (like with gold fillings), following a root canal, or to allow the nerves in a tooth to relax if they become irritated. They may also be used when an emergency appointment is needed.

Temporary fillings are not meant to last long. They usually fall out, fracture, or wear out within a month. Contact a dentist is any signs of a failing temporary filling occur. If you do not replace the temporary filling with a permanent filling the tooth could become infected or result in other more problematic complications.

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Gary Allen, DMD, Advantage Dental Group, P.C. | James Thommes, DDS, Advantage Dental Oral Health Center Of Massachusetts, P.C.; Advantage Dental Oral Health And Vision Center Of Alabama, P.C.; Advantage Dental Oral Health Center Of Oklahoma, P.C.; Advantage Dental Oral Health Center Of Texas, P.C. | Cory White, DMD, Advantage Dental Oral Health and Vision Center Of Alabama, P.C. | John Clasen, OD, Advantage Dental Oral Health and Vision Center Of Alabama, P.C. | Neil Williams, DMD, Advantage Dental Oral Health Center Of Florida, PA