Dental fillings are used by dentists to replace part of a tooth that has either been damaged by poor oral hygiene or has been worn down by decay. Restoring the tooth with a filling helps preserve the structure of the tooth. Fillings can also help prevent future damage or tooth loss.
Fillings were traditionally made from metal, but are now made from a range of materials and colors, giving patients the ability to match the filling to their natural tooth’s color. Dental fillings are common, performed quickly and easily right in your dentist’s office with local anesthetics.
Dental fillings are most often used to repair cavities, which are spots of tooth decay caused by oral bacteria. A dentist can remove the decayed material from the tooth and repair the hole with a filling material. This stops the decay from progressing any further, and it keeps the tooth strong and resistant to damage such as cracks and chips.
While these are general signs that tooth decay has created a need for dental fillings, not all cavities cause the symptoms above. In many cases, cavities do not cause these symptoms until they have been progressing for a while, which is why it is important to see a dentist regularly. Your dentist can use tools such as x-rays and lasers to detect small, pinhole cavities before they cause any symptoms. It’s often best to fill the cavities at this stage before they begin causing any symptoms, since they present a greater threat to the integrity of the tooth as they continue to grow larger.
Dental fillings can also be used to address problems other than cavities. If you chip a tooth, your dentist may recommend a filling to repair the chip. Some patients who grind their teeth eventually wear down their enamel to the point that a dental filling is needed to prevent further damage. Biting your nails and using your teeth to open packages may also cause enamel wear and chips that your dentist would need to fix with a filling.
Traditionally, fillings were only made from metal, usually gold or silver. Metal fillings were and are very durable, but many patients do not enjoy how obvious they are in the mouth. There are now tooth-colored options, like composite resin and porcelain, which make fillings much more discrete. Your dentist can help you decide on the best material for your filling based on the location of the tooth, the budget, the size of the cavity, and your preferences.
Composite resin fillings are made from a specialized epoxy material that contains silica or ceramic for strength. They can be specially colored to blend in with the natural color of the tooth, which makes them a popular choice for front teeth and other areas that are visible when smiling.
Dentists do not have to remove as much tooth material to insert a composite filling as when inserting a metal filling. For this reason, the dentist is likely to recommend composite fillings for larger cavities. However, composite fillings do not last as long as metal fillings, and they may have to be replaced or repaired somewhat regularly. Often, patients who have composite resin fillings need to get them replaced before a span of 10 years, and they often have to replace these fillings multiple times in their lives.
Porcelain fillings are often made of a silicon base inserted in layers, which has some benefits. Layering the inlay can help dentists recreate the shape of the tooth more realistically than some of the other filling materials. The drawback is that these layers may require several visits to complete.
Although they are the most costly of all of the filling options, porcelain inlays tend to last longer than composite resin fillings and sometimes even longer than metal amalgam fillings. Due to their strength, many dentists prefer porcelain more for worn or abraded teeth than for treating cavities, but they can also be used as fillings for a variety of situations.
While not common anymore due to lack of esthetic appeal – metal fillings are still the most durable option, and are now made of an amalgam (or mixture) of metals. Mixed metal fillings are usually the most affordable, and some metal fillings can last between 10 years to a lifetime. Many patients choose metal fillings for cavities or chips in their back molars, since these teeth are not easily seen when they smile.
Having a tooth filled generally takes between 20 minutes to an hour, depending on the size of the cavity or the extent of the tooth damage. If there are multiple cavities, chips, or worn areas that need repaired, the dentist may recommend having them all filled during one appointment since this means the mouth will only need to be numbed once.
When arriving for a filling appointment, the dentist will begin by applying a numbing gel to a small area on the inside of the cheek. Once the cheek tissue is numb, the dentist will inject a local anesthetic to numb the tooth that needs work. It will take a few minutes for the local anesthetic to take effect, but when it does, the dentist will begin using a dental tool to start removing any damaged tooth material. It is normal to feel some pressure and vibrations during this phase of the filling process, but there should not be any pain.
Once the decayed or damaged material has been removed, the dentist may rinse the tooth with a fluoride solution to prevent further decay. This rinse may have a sour and somewhat unpleasant taste, but it will only last briefly. Once the tooth is clean, the dentist may use gauze and some wedges to isolate the tooth that will be filled. Then, the dentist will use a tool to place the composite resin or metal amalgam filling in the prepared tooth. If resin is used, a UV light will be aimed at the filling in order to cure the material. Then, the dentist will shape the filling.
If a porcelain filling or inlay is applied to the tooth, the dentist will likely need two appointments to complete the procedure. During the first appointment, the tooth will be cleaned and a mold will be made so that a lab can make a customized porcelain filling. During the second appointment, the filling will be inserted into your tooth. Some dentists have begun using specialized, computer-aided programs to design and create the inlay. If the dentist offers this service, the porcelain filling might be made and inserted in a single appointment.
Following your dental filling appointment, your mouth may still be numb, but the anesthetic should wear off after about 1 to 3 hours. Jaw soreness is common from having to hold the mouth open for so long, but there should not be any overt pain. Some patients experience sensitivity in the filled tooth, especially if the cavity was large, but this symptom should fade within a week or two.
Generally, caring for a tooth with a filling is similar to caring for any other healthy tooth. Make sure to brush and floss the tooth daily to prevent oral bacteria from accumulating on or around the filling. It’s also important to visit a dentist for teeth cleaning appointments every 6 months, and schedule regular checkups to make sure the filling doesn’t become worn or damaged. If it does, detecting early allows the dentist to make any repairs or corrections before the damaged filling causes more problems.
It is important to check for signs that a filling has become worn, chipped, or cracked, since this can allow bacteria to enter the tooth and cause decay under the filling.
Seek treatment early if there are any signs of damage, because the dentist may be able to remove the damaged filling and replace it before bigger problems develop. If a damaged filling is left in the mouth for too long, bacteria may begin building up between the filling and the tooth. This can lead to extensive decay that may require a larger filling, more serious dental procedures, or even the loss of the tooth.
The cost of a dental filling depends on the location of the tooth to be filled, the size of the filling, the filling material, and how many teeth are being filled at once. Silver amalgam fillings are the most affordable and typically cost between $50 and $150. Composite resin fillings cost between $90 and $250, and porcelain or gold fillings can cost anywhere from $250 to $4,500. Be sure to check with the Bright Now! Dental office nearest you for exact pricing.
In most cases, dental insurance will cover all or most of the cost of a composite or silver amalgam dental filling, but porcelain inlays are not always fully covered. It is important to discuss all options with your dentist and any insurance companies you have to better understand your options.
Good dental care shouldn’t be hard to get, and it shouldn’t be hard on your wallet. If you are suffering from a toothache, sensitivity, bad breath, or other symptoms of a cavity or tooth damage, make an appointment with a Bright Now! dentist today. We accept most major dental insurances as well as CareCredit, and we offer a wide range of payment and financing options to help you afford the care you need, including our own OneSmile Dental Plan. It’s never too late to start taking care of your teeth!