Decay,  Dentist,  Procedures

Dental fillings (tooth fillings) – Cost, Procedure, Types, Kit, Fell Out, At Home

Key Facts

  • Dental fillings are used to restore the integrity and function of teeth damaged by cavities or decay
  • Fillings can be made from various materials such as amalgam, composite resins, porcelain, or gold
  • The procedure involves removing the decayed part of the tooth and then filling the cavity with a suitable material
  • The durability of dental fillings varies depending on the material used
  • Regular dental check-ups and good oral hygiene practices are essential for the longevity of dental fillings

What are Dental Fillings?

Dental fillings are a common dental procedure used to restore teeth that have been damaged by decay or cavities. When a tooth is affected by decay, it is essential to remove the decayed part to prevent further damage. After the decayed part is removed, the dentist fills the cavity with a material that restores the tooth’s shape and function. This procedure is relatively simple and can significantly improve oral health and the ability to chew properly.

What Materials are Dental Fillings Made From?

Dental fillings can be made from a variety of materials, and the choice depends on factors like the extent of repair, allergies to certain materials, or the cost. The materials commonly used for dental fillings include:

  • Composite Resins: These are fillings that are matched to be the same color as your teeth. This type of filling provides a more natural appearance and is used for small to medium-sized fillings.
  • Amalgam Fillings: These are made from a mixture of metals including silver, mercury, tin, and copper. They are durable and are often used for filling cavities in the back teeth.
  • Porcelain Fillings: Often called inlays or onlays, porcelain fillings are produced in a lab and then bonded to the tooth. They can be matched to the color of the tooth and resist staining.
  • Gold Fillings: These are made to order in a laboratory and then cemented into place. Gold fillings are often considered the most durable and can last more than 20 years.
  • Glass Ionomer: This material is made of acrylic and a specific type of glass material. These fillings are less durable but release fluoride, which can help protect the tooth from further decay.

Are There Advantages and Disadvantages to Various Filling Materials?

Yes, different materials have their own sets of advantages and disadvantages:

  • Amalgam: It is durable and inexpensive but is more noticeable than composite materials and may not be suitable for visible areas such as front teeth.
  • Composite Resins: While they can be colored to match your teeth, they are not as durable as other materials and may need to be replaced more frequently.
  • Gold: Though highly durable, gold fillings are more expensive than other materials and require multiple visits to the dentist.
  • Porcelain: Similar in cost to gold, porcelain fillings look like natural teeth but can be brittle compared to metal fillings.
  • Glass Ionomer: This material is weaker and less durable but may be used in certain situations where fluoride release is beneficial.

What are Indirect Fillings?

Indirect fillings are similar to composite or tooth-colored fillings, but they are used when not enough tooth structure remains to support a filling but the tooth is not so severely damaged that it needs a crown.
There are two types of indirect fillings – inlays and onlays:

  • Inlays are similar to fillings but the work lies within the cusps (bumps) on the chewing surface of the tooth.
  • Onlays are more extensive than inlays, covering one or more cusps. Onlays are sometimes called partial crowns.

Indirect fillings are considered when not enough tooth structure remains to support a filling but the tooth is not so severely damaged that it needs a crown.

What’s a Temporary Filling and Why Would I Need One?

A temporary filling is a filling that is meant to last for a short period of time, typically a few weeks to a few months. Temporary fillings are used:

  • Following a Root Canal: After the initial portion of a root canal, a dentist might place a temporary filling to protect the affected tooth until the final filling or crown is placed.
  • When Waiting for a Permanent Filling or Crown: If the dentist needs to wait for a permanent crown to be made by a dental lab, a temporary filling may be used.
  • For Toothache Relief: Temporary fillings may also be used if a toothache is caused by a cavity or decay, and the dentist wants to make sure all infection and decay are gone before placing a permanent filling.

Procedure: What Steps are Involved in Filling a Tooth?

  • Local Anesthesia: Before the filling procedure begins, the dentist will numb the tooth that needs to be filled and the surrounding area with a local anesthetic.
  • Removing the Decay: Using a drill, laser, or air abrasion, the dentist will remove the decayed area of the tooth.
  • Isolating the Operative Field: Once all the decay has been removed a good dentist will apply rubber dam isolation on the tooth. In some cases the isolation can also be applied before removing the decay. If your dentist is using cotton rolls instead of rubber dam it’s time to change the dentist.
  • Cleaning the Cavity Floor: In this step, the dentist will clean the area to remove bacteria and debris.
  • Placing the Filling Material: The cleaned-out cavity will then be filled with one of the various filling materials (such as amalgam, composite resin, gold, or porcelain).
  • Polishing and Bite Adjustment: The dentist will finish by polishing the filling and adjusting your bite to ensure comfort and proper alignment.

Are Silver Amalgam Fillings Safe?

Silver amalgam fillings, which contain a small amount of mercury, have been used for more than 150 years. The American Dental Association and other health organizations believe amalgam is a safe, durable, and effective material for fillings. The mercury is bound to other metals making it stable and safe at the levels used in fillings. However, some people may have allergies to metals used in amalgam or have concerns regarding the mercury content and prefer to use alternative materials like composite resins.

How Should I Care for My Teeth with Fillings?

  • Regular Oral Hygiene: Brush your teeth twice a day, floss daily, and rinse with an antiseptic mouthwash.
  • Avoid Hard Foods: Be cautious not to bite on hard foods or ice, as this can crack the filling.
  • Regular Dental Check-ups: Visit your dentist regularly for check-ups and cleanings.
  • Minimize Sugary Foods and Drinks: Sugary substances contribute to tooth decay, so it’s best to limit consumption, especially if you have fillings.

What Causes Tooth Sensitivity After Getting a Dental Filling?

Tooth sensitivity after getting a dental filling is common. The causes include:

  • Irritation to the Nerve: During the decay removal process, the tooth’s nerve can get irritated, especially if the filling is deep.
  • Reactions to Metal Fillings: Sometimes, the metal conduct heat and cold, which can lead to sensitivity.
  • Incorrect Bite Alignment: If the filling is not correctly shaped, it can affect how your teeth come together when you bite.

Usually, sensitivity should subside within a few days to a few weeks. If it does not, or if the sensitivity is severe, it is essential to contact your dentist.

Why Do I Feel Pain Around My Dental Filling?

There are several reasons why you might feel pain around a dental filling:

  • Tooth Sensitivity: Shortly after having a tooth filled, the area around the filling can be sensitive to pressure, air, sweet foods, or temperature.
  • Irritation of the Tooth’s Pulp: The procedure to place a filling involves removing decay, and this process can cause inflammation, especially if the decay was deep and close to the pulp of the tooth.
  • Incorrect Bite Alignment: If a filling is not properly shaped, it might affect the bite. When the upper and lower teeth do not meet properly, this can cause pain.
  • Cracked or Loose Filling: Sometimes a filling can crack or become loose, causing discomfort.
  • Allergic Reaction to Filling Material: Though rare, some people are allergic to the material used in fillings.

Why or When Would a Dental Filling Need to Be Replaced?

A dental filling may need to be replaced due to:

  • Wear and Tear: Over time, fillings can wear down, crack, or even fall out due to the pressure from chewing and biting.
  • Recurrent Decay: Sometimes, decay can develop around a filling. This requires removal of the filling to treat the decay.
  • Cracks or Leaks: If a filling cracks or does not fit snugly against the tooth, food particles and bacteria can get between the filling and the tooth, leading to decay.
  • Cosmetic Reasons: A person might want to replace a filling for cosmetic reasons, such as replacing metal fillings with tooth-colored fillings.

What Causes a New Filling to Simply Fall Out?

  • Insufficient Bonding: The filling may not have bonded properly with the tooth structure.
  • Saliva Contamination: During the procedure, if the tooth is not kept sufficiently dry, saliva can contaminate the area to be filled, affecting the filling’s adhesion.
  • Immediate Pressure: Eating hard or sticky foods too soon after getting a filling can dislodge it.
  • Structural Issues: If there is not enough tooth structure to support a filling, it may fall out.

Can a Person Be Allergic to Amalgam Fillings?

Yes, though it is very rare, some individuals may be allergic to metals used in amalgam fillings, such as mercury, silver, tin, or copper. Symptoms of an allergy might include itching, skin rashes, or oral lesions. If a person is known to be allergic to any of these metals, it’s important to inform the dentist, who can then use an alternative material for fillings.

Does Dental Insurance Cover the Cost of Composite Fillings?

Dental insurance coverage for composite fillings can vary. Some dental insurance plans do cover composite fillings, but the coverage might be less than for amalgam fillings, and you may need to pay the difference in cost. It’s best to check with your insurance company to find out the specifics of what is covered under your plan.


The primary reason for needing a dental filling is tooth decay, which is often the result of poor oral hygiene, consuming sugary foods and drinks, or genetic factors. Tooth decay leads to cavities – holes in the teeth. Other causes for needing a filling include tooth fractures or worn teeth due to nail-biting, grinding, or using teeth to open packaging.

How Do I Know if I Need a Filling?

You may need a filling if you experience:

  • Sensitivity to hot, cold, or sweet foods and drinks
  • A toothache or spontaneous tooth pain
  • Pain when biting down
  • Visible holes or pits in your teeth
  • Food getting stuck between certain teeth
  • Rough or chipped tooth surfaces

A dentist will be able to definitively tell you if you need a filling through an oral examination and possibly taking X-rays.

Risks and Complications of Using a Dental Filling

  • Tooth Sensitivity: Some people experience sensitivity in the filled tooth
  • Allergic Reactions: In rare cases, a person may be allergic to the material used in a filling
  • Discomfort or Pain: There may be discomfort or pain after the anesthesia wears off
  • Cracked or Loose Filling: A filling can crack or become loose over time
  • Deterioration of Filling Material: Fillings don’t last forever and can deteriorate over time

Deteriorating Fillings

Over time, dental fillings can wear down, chip, or even fall out. When a filling deteriorates, it can create spaces between the tooth and the filling, allowing bacteria to seep in, leading to further tooth decay. Regular dental check-ups are important so that the dentist can monitor the condition of fillings and recommend replacement if necessary.

How Long Will My Filling Last?

The lifespan of a dental filling varies depending on the material used and individual factors such as oral hygiene practices and dietary habits. Amalgam fillings usually last around 10 to 15 years, while composite resin fillings may last around 5 to 7 years. Gold fillings can last more than 15 years, but they are less common due to the cost. Maintaining good oral hygiene and avoiding habits like grinding teeth can prolong the life of dental fillings.

Dental Filling Kit

A dental filling kit is an over-the-counter product that can be used for temporary dental repair. It usually contains dental cement or a filling material, a spatula for application, and instructions on how to use the kit. Dental filling kits are primarily used as a temporary measure to repair lost fillings or loose crowns until you can see a dentist. They are not meant to be a permanent solution.

Dental Filling Fell Out

When a dental filling falls out, it’s often due to the natural wear and tear that takes place over years, but it can also be due to decay under the filling or a crack in the tooth. It’s important to schedule an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible if a filling falls out. In the meantime, avoid eating hard or sticky foods and try to keep the area clean.

Dental Filling Meaning

A dental filling is a restorative material used to repair the function and integrity of a tooth that has been compromised due to cavities or trauma. By filling cavities, it prevents further decay by sealing off spaces where bacteria can enter. There are several types of filling materials available, including amalgam, composite resins, and gold.

Dental Filling at Home

Dental filling at home generally refers to using a dental filling kit for temporary repairs. While these kits can be handy in an emergency, it is critical to understand that they are only a temporary solution. It’s essential to see a dentist as soon as possible for a professional and permanent repair. Using a kit can alleviate pain or discomfort temporarily, but without proper treatment, the tooth can experience further decay or complications.

Bottom Line

Dental fillings are an essential procedure for combating tooth decay and preserving the integrity of the teeth. With the variety of materials available, it’s important to consult with your dentist to determine which is the best option for your health, aesthetic preference, and budget. Regular dental check-ups and proper oral hygiene are vital for the longevity of dental fillings and overall oral health.

This article is complete and was published on June 26, 2023, and last updated on August 26, 2023.

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