What Are Dental Fillings: Everything You Need To Know

We all know that teeth are essential for chewing food and speaking correctly, but what about the things you don’t see? Hidden beneath your smile can be a mouthful of cavities, especially if you don’t make regular trips to the dentist. No one likes to think about it, but they’re there, lurking in the shadows waiting for their chance to strike. If left untreated, dental decay can form filling-sized holes which let bacteria flow into your gums and infect your jawbone. Your professional dentist will examine your teeth and make a recommendation based on what they find. Typically, dental fillings are used to repair teeth damaged by tooth decay. 

This blog post will discuss how dental fillings work by providing detailed descriptions of each type and explaining how they are done to prevent future problems before they even happen.

What Are Dental Fillings?

Dental fillings are one of the most frequently carried out dental procedures throughout the world. Dental fillings are used to restore a decayed tooth that has dental caries, has worn down from grinding, or has cracked due to an accident. Fillings for tooth cavities can be made of a variety of materials, including gold, silver amalgam, porcelain, and composite resin.

You may need a filling if the health of your teeth has been compromised by decay or trauma. When you have an x-ray, these issues can be determined or confirmed.

Different Types Of Dental Fillings

Amalgam

Amalgam is a traditional filling material that has been used for more than 100 years. It’s made up of metals, including silver, copper, tin, mercury, and zinc, and it’s pretty durable. Mercury is toxic in high doses, but amalgam fillings are not toxic and are beneficial to many people. The use of amalgam fillings continues to be backed by the Australian Dental Association. However, it is recommended to limit their use in pregnant or nursing women, children, and patients with kidney disease.

Composite resin

Composite resin is a tooth-coloured filling material. Unlike amalgam, it is more natural-looking and can be matched to the colour of the teeth. However, it is somewhat more expensive. Several studies have shown that it does not last as long when used to fill back teeth, where there is much pressure.

Glass-ionomer cement

Glass-ionomer cement may also be matched to tooth colour, but it is not as durable as composite resin. They’re made of acrylic and have fluoride-containing glass, which may aid in the prevention of cavities. This filling is usually used for baby teeth and in locations where there isn’t much biting force.

Gold fillings

The result of combining gold, copper, and other metals is quite sturdy yet costly. After the dentist obtains an impression of your tooth, it is sent to a laboratory where gold fillings are created. 

Gold filling typically lasts around 10 to 15 years.

Ceramic / Porcelain Filling

Ceramic fillings are commonly made from porcelain and are more stain-resistant than composite resin. The colour is similar to that of the teeth, so they look natural. In most cases, these are created in a laboratory after the dentist has taken an impression of the teeth. A filling of this type is long-lasting and can last up to 15 years.

Temporary fillings

A short-term temporary filling may be used if there isn’t enough time to complete treatment on a tooth. It will be replaced with a permanent dental filling on the next dental visit.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Tooth Filling Materials

advantages and disadvantages of tooth filling materials

Gold Fillings

Advantages of cast gold fillings:

  • Durability — it’s corrosion-resistant and lasts at least 10 to 15 years, usually far longer
  • Strength — sturdy enough to withstand chewing pressures.
  • Appearance — gold is more appealing to the eye than a silver filling.

Disadvantages of cast gold fillings:

  • Cost — gold fillings are extremely expensive compared to other materials, about ten times the price of silver amalgam fillings.
  • Multiple dental appointments — will require at least two visits to the dental clinic.
  • Galvanic shock — Gold fillings may cause a sharp pain (galvanic shock) when placed next to silver amalgam fillings. It is caused by an electric current that is generated between the metals and saliva. It is, however, a very rare occurrence.
  • Appearance — Most patients prefer tooth-coloured fillings to metal fillings because of their aesthetics.

Amalgams / Silver Fillings 

Advantages of silver fillings:

  • Durability — Amalgam restoration lasts significantly longer than composite (tooth-coloured) fillings. On average, they last between 10-15 years.
  • Strength — can withstand the pressure of chewing.
  • Cost — more affordable than composite fillings.

Disadvantages of silver fillings:

  • Lack of aesthetic appeal — silver fillings do not match the colour of surrounding natural teeth.
  • Damage to the natural tooth structure — To make a space big enough to hold the amalgam filling, healthy parts of the tooth must often be removed.
  • Discolouration — dental filling material made with amalgam can cause the surrounding teeth to appear greyish.
  • Cracks and fractures — even though all teeth expand and compress in response to hot and cold liquids, which can eventually cause a tooth to crack or fracture, amalgam material, in contrast with other filling materials, may undergo a greater range of expansion and reduction, resulting in a higher rate of cracks and fractures.
  • Allergic reactions to mercury — The allergy to amalgam restorations is quite rare, affecting only 1% of the population.
  • The amalgam releases low levels of vaporised mercury, which can be breathed in and absorbed by the lungs. Mercury exposure at high levels has been linked to brain and kidney damage. The FDA considers amalgam fillings safe for individuals aged six and above, and studies have found no link between amalgam fillings and health problems.

Tooth-coloured Composite Filling

Advantages of composite filling:

  • Appearance — The colour of the composite fillings can be matched to the shade of the existing teeth. Composites are ideal for applications in front teeth or visible areas of the teeth.
  • Solid bond to tooth — Composite fillings bond micro-mechanically to tooth structure, adding strength and durability.
  • Versatility — Composite fillings can be used to repair chipped, fractured, or worn teeth in addition to being a filling material for decay.
  • Tooth-saving preparation — When tooth decay is removed and prepared for fillings, less tooth structure is lost than when amalgam is used.

Disadvantages of composite filling:

  • Fragile — Composite fillings typically last at least five years. It can also not withstand chewing and biting forces compared to amalgam, especially when used in large cavities.
  • Longer chair time — Due to the procedure for placing composite fillings, the process can take up to 20 minutes longer than placing amalgam fillings.
  • Multiple dental visits usually require more than one dental office visit if used for inlays or onlays.
  • Chipping — Composite material can chip off a tooth, depending on where it is placed.
  • Cost– A composite restoration is often two times more expensive than dental amalgam fillings.

Porcelain Fillings

Advantages of porcelain filling:

  • Appearance — Aesthetically pleasing
  • Durability — Excellent wear resistance, especially when combined with a metal alloy. It is usually stain-resistant and is less likely to chip and break than composite resin fillings.  
  • Longevity — The unique fit and bonding technique can make the filling last for more than 20 years.
  • Stronger teeth — Porcelain fillings can strengthen teeth and offer a more permanent solution than amalgam fillings or composite fillings.

 Disadvantages of porcelain filling 

  • Affects other teeth — They can cause issues with the opposing teeth, resulting in a rough tooth surface.
  • Removal of healthy tooth structure — It will be necessary to remove a more sound tooth structure to fit the filling or restoration. Tooth sensitivity — For the first couple of days, your teeth may be sensitive to heat or cold.
  • Metal Allergies — If the porcelain crown is bonded to a metal filling, some people might get an allergic reaction to metals. 
  • Cost — It can be as expensive as gold fillings.

Glass ionomer 

Advantages of glass ionomer:

  • Appearance: The colour closely resembles your teeth.
  • No preparation required — Often, no prior preparation is necessary when you get a glass ionomer filling. It implies that it’s an ideal choice for filling cavities in children.
  • It improves dental health — The fluoride it releases over time strengthens your teeth and keeps them healthy.
  • Bonds well — they bond strongly to the tooth, preventing any future cavities or leaks.

Disadvantages of glass ionomer 

  •  Durability– Unlike other filling materials, it is not very robust and can be worn down quickly. It’s also susceptible to acid erosion. It also has a low fracture strength, making it unsuitable for high-load bearing regions.
  • Appearance — While the colour is close to your original tooth, it is not the exact same shade.
  • Longer chair time — The dental procedure for placing glass ionomers is lengthy because each layer must be bonded separately. Furthermore, some types may not be able to be completed and polished in one day so they require additional visits.

When Does a Tooth Need Dental Fillings?

when does a tooth need dental fillings

A strong and healthy mouth begins with a regular check-up. The earlier a cavity is treated, the better your tooth’s condition and more minor invasive treatments may be involved. So it’s worth investing in some preventative dental checkups to avoid more invasive procedures down the line or pain from an untreated problem that could have been prevented with immediate care.

In general, there are several signs that a cavity is present, such as:

  • Tooth sensitivity to cold or hot foods and drinks.
  • Sensitivity to foods and beverages with high sugar content
  • A toothache that does not go away
  • There is a pit or hole in a tooth
  • A stain on the teeth that is either dark or white.

It’s essential to see your dentist if you suspect that there is a cavity in your tooth. They can determine what type of treatment might be most appropriate for you, whether it means fillings or some other dental treatments. 

Dental Fillings Procedure

  • A filling is a quick and easy procedure to get rid of a cavity. Your dentist will begin by examining your mouth and using dental equipment to assess the extent of the cavity. They will take an X-ray of the tooth or teeth to check the severity of the decay.
  • During the dental filling procedure, the tooth area will be numbed with an anesthetic. It can help to avoid any discomfort. If the filling is only on the tooth’s surface, you may not need an anaesthetic.
  • Typically, a dental drill is used to remove the decay once the gums are numb. Dental practitioners may frequently use lasers or air abrasion tools.
  • Your dentist will then clean, sterilize, and prepare the tooth for the filling, then fill the hole. In some cases, blue wavelength light will be used to harden the filling.
  • Lastly, your dentist will polish the filled tooth and examine your bite to ensure that it is correct.

Do You Need Temporary Filling?

he following circumstances require temporary fillings:

  • For fillings that need more than one session, such as gold fillings and certain composite filling procedures (such as indirect fillings)
  • After root canal therapy
  • To allow the nerve of a tooth to “calm down” if the pulp has become inflamed.
  • In the case of an emergency dental care need

Temporary fillings are not designed to last long. They typically only last for a month and should be replaced with permanent ones. When a filling in one of your teeth falls out, contact your dentist as soon as possible. The risk of leaving it unattended increases if this happens. An infection could occur from exposed dentin where bacteria could enter the cracks, resulting in pain.

Direct Filling vs. Indirect Filling

direct filling vs. indirect filling

Direct Filling 

Direct fillings are formed inside the mouth during a single dental clinic visit. It includes silver amalgam, glass ionomers, and composite fillings.

To make this method work, you need to first prepare the tooth by removing all remnants of decay. A soft or malleable filling is then inserted into the prepared tooth and builds up the tooth. The tooth is then set hard and reconstructed. The benefit of direct restorations is that they are generally finished in a short time and can be done in one session. The dentist offers several alternative filling choices. The location and severity of the cavity are usually taken into account when making a selection. Since the material must be set while in contact with the tooth, limited energy (heat) is transferred to the tooth during the setting process.

Indirect filling

This type of filling is created in a dental laboratory. Two dental appointments are needed to place the indirect fillings, so they take longer to put than composite or tooth coloured fillings, but they give you more options when it comes down to the final look. Indirect fillings are an excellent option for those who have lost some tooth structure, but not so much that it needs to be replaced.

The process of placing an indirect filling

Decay or an old filling is removed on the first dental visit. An oral health professional will take an impression of your mouth, and it is used to record the form of the tooth being restored and the surrounding teeth. While the indirect filling is customised in the laboratory using the impression sent by the dentist, a temporary filling is placed on the damaged tooth to protect it.

On the second visit, the temporary filling is removed and replaced with the permanent one. The dentist will inspect the indirect restoration’s fit. If the fit is good, it will be permanently cemented in place.

FAQ About Dental Fillings

How Long Does Tooth Filling Take?

The time from beginning to completion for a dental filling varies depending on how long your anaesthesia takes to take effect. It will typically only require about 15 minutes, though in some cases, it may take as much as 30 minutes.

What to Expect After a Dental Filling?

Sensitivity is common after a filling, but it shouldn’t be painful.  

Your teeth may have become more easily sensitive to pressure, air, hot or cold foods than usual, which may also cause discomfort when you eat sweet food or bite your teeth together. Sensitivity typically goes away on its own after a few weeks. If possible, stay away from the source until it goes away. Pain relievers are rarely needed unless the pain is severe. 

Contact your dental practitioner if sensitivity lasts for a few weeks. You may be advised to use a desensitizing toothpaste or have a root canal procedure.

Potential Problems After the Tooth Filling Procedure

It’s possible that you’ll have trouble speaking, chewing, and drinking until the anaesthetic wears off. During this period, you may also feel a tingling sensation in the region. Additionally, you might experience discomfort and sensitivity to cold and heat for several days to a week following your procedure.

Factors Affecting the Failure of Tooth Fillings

  • The size of the filling – Fillings in larger cavities are bigger. Larger fillings have a greater surface area and perimeter, exposing them to germs in your mouth. Teeth with big cavities are not as strong, causing the filling to fall out more quickly.
  • Age – Older fillings that have been placed ten or more years ago are more prone to break, wear down, and chip.
  • Dental hygiene habits – If the tooth continues to decay due to poor oral hygiene, some fillings may come out if it advances beyond the extent of the original filling.
  • Grinding and clenching – The majority of your teeth are strong enough to resist powerful biting forces, but fillings, while sturdy, cannot endure the same amount of stress.
  • The filling material used– There are a number of different types of fillings available. Silver amalgam fillings, for example, are less popular since they don’t match the colour of your teeth. These fillings, on the other hand, are more long-lasting than the more attractive composite fillings. Tooth-coloured fillings are far more likely to wear down quickly.

Cost of Tooth Filling

The cost of dental fillings is determined by various variables, including the restorative material, the tooth’s location, and the number of tooth surfaces that need to be restored. Based on the 2020 national dental fee survey, a simple filling (item 522) may cost around $275, while a more complex one (535) might cost up to $475.

Posterior teeth/ back teethAdhesive

1 surface – Posterior Restoration (per tooth surface) – $162.39

Cusp capping – per cusp – $43.71

White Filling Adhesive – 5 Surfaces – Back Tooth – $304 – $417

Anterior teeth/front

Adhesive 1 surface – Anterior Restoration (per tooth surface) – $149.45

Restoration incisal corner – per corner – $48.70

White Filling Adhesive – 5 surfaces – front tooth – $293 – $400

Inlay / Onlay 

Tooth-coloured restoration – 1 surface – $727.42

(May require added cost for extra surface)

Does Dental Insurance Cover Dental Fillings?

Most private insurance plans cover tooth fillings. However, the level of coverage they provide depends on various circumstances, such as your deductible and degree of coverage. Some dental insurance plans may only cover half the cost of fillings, and you will have to pay the rest. There is a significant difference between what health funds cover and how many claims you can make in a year. 

Some dental services qualify as unlimited, so you may claim as many as you like. It’s crucial to understand what your policy covers. Your policy might have this information in the “Extras” section.

Having dental insurance coverage can assist you with the expense of dental fillings and other restorative treatments.

Do’s and Don’ts After Tooth Filling

You should follow excellent oral care habits, such as visiting your dentist regularly for cleanings, using fluoride toothpaste to brush your teeth, and flossing at least once each day to keep your fillings healthy. A cracked or leaking filling is a concerning situation that could lead to tooth decay. Your dentist will take X-rays of the area to assess the extent that needs fixing.

What to eat: 

  • Soups, scrambled eggs, mashed potatoes, yogurt, cheese, soups, and pasta are all excellent alternatives for foods to consume after a tooth filling. Eat foods that don’t need much chewing.
  • Solid foods should not be consumed for at least 24 hours after a metal filling is placed. It is because this type of filling can take some time to harden.

Follow these oral hygiene practices to maintain your fillings:

  • Getting regular dental cleanings (two times a year).
  • Use toothpaste containing fluoride.
  • Daily flossing is recommended.

When you’re in pain, it’s crucial to find out what might be causing the discomfort. So if your tooth feels painful or sensitive at any point during brushing and cleaning, don’t hesitate to call for an appointment. 

  • There is a great deal of sensitivity in your tooth.
  • It feels like there is a sharp edge.
  • There is a crack in the filling, or there is a missing piece of the filling.
  • If the pain continues even after taking pain reliever medicine

Don’ts

  • Don’t consume foods with a high sugar content as it is a significant contributor to tooth decay. Sugary meals can cause biofilms to develop on your fillings and tooth enamel, which can cause new cavities beneath existing ones as well as on healthy teeth.
  • Don’t chew on hard candies, nuts, ice, and other hard foods, as they can harm your fillings and teeth. Foods such as gums, beef jerky, and sticky foods should also be avoided as they may pull the filling from your teeth.
  • Don’t drink beverages that cause stains like soda, coffee, tea, and red wine, since they can cause discolouration of the composite fillings.
  • Avoid drinking hot or cold beverages to reduce sensitivity.

How Long Does a Tooth Filling Last?

How long the fillings last depends on the type of material, location of the restored tooth, and oral health. The average lifespan is between 5 and 10 years, but some last for 15 years or more if well taken care of. 

Other factors that affect the life of a filling include:

  • The foods you eat (healthy diet)
  • Maintaining a good oral hygiene routine
  • Tooth trauma
  • Decay surrounding the filling
  • Teeth grinding while sleeping

Although many elements influence the longevity of fillings, the material of choice may indicate how long a given filling should last.

Types of filling Average duration

Amalgam 15 years

Composite 5 years

Ceramic 15 years

Glass ionomer five years

Cast gold filling 10 to 15 years  

Final Thoughts 

It’s essential to keep your teeth in healthy shape, which is why dental fillings are so popular. Dental fillings are used to restore a tooth’s strength and function and protect them from further decay. Additionally, it can be done quickly and with minimal discomfort.

No matter what kind of restorative dentistry you need to do, our Peel Dental Studio team is here to provide different treatment options so that no one has to suffer from tooth pain any longer. We pride ourselves on caring for our patients by providing the best possible dental treatment that suits their needs. Give us a call today or book an appointment online for more information.

Dr. Ross Bailey

https://peeldentalstudio.com.au

Dr Bailey currently serves on the Australian Dental Association as immediate Past President, and before this has held office as President, Treasurer and Country Councillor. He is on the Australian Dental Association Federal Council and has always been keen to give back to the profession that has been his life. He has tutored young dentists at the Oral Health Centre in Perth, which he has held for over 20 years.