A filling is a type of dental restoration that helps restore the decayed portion of a tooth resulting from a cavity. As the name suggests, a filling consists of permanently placing a material like silver or resin into that decayed portion, “filling” the tooth and preventing further damage. Fillings are also used to repair broken or cracked teeth or reinforce teeth that have been worn down from nail-biting, clenching, or teeth grinding.
Types of Fillings
Although some people prefer the aesthetics of gold over silver, gold fillings are less durable and up to 10 times more expensive than silver fillings.
Tooth-colored composite fillings
Ceramic (or porcelain)
Ceramic fillings are also tooth-colored but are considerably more expensive than composite resin.
If the affected tooth does not have enough tooth structure remaining to support a filling but does not require a crown, your dentist may recommend an indirect filling. Indirect fillings require two visits to place and are similar to tooth-colored (composite) fillings.
As with any cavity, the decay or an existing filling is removed during the first visit, but then the dentist takes an impression of the tooth and its surrounding teeth. The impression is sent to a dental laboratory where a filling is made. At the second visit, the dentist permanently cements the new filling into place.
Getting a filling
Fillings can be done right in your dentist’s office and take about an hour to complete. The dentist will first discuss the procedure with you and examine your mouth before starting. You may also have x-rays taken. The dentist will then numb your teeth, gums, and the surrounding skin in the cheek to minimize any discomfort. The numbing agent typically takes several minutes to begin working. During this waiting time, the dentist may step away to examine other patients.
Once everything is numb, the dentist will return to remove the area of decay in the tooth. He or she will then inspect the area to make sure all of the decay has been removed, then clear the exposed space of any other bacteria or debris.
The filling will then be placed and cemented or cured to the tooth, depending on what type you are receiving. The dentist will also finish and polish the filling to make sure it is smooth and does not interfere with your bite.
Caring for a filling
A good oral hygiene routine is the best way to care for your filling: brush and floss daily and visit your dentist regularly, at least every six months. During your exams, your dentist will also check your alignment for any problems, such as teeth grinding or clenching; these habits put extra pressure on your teeth and can cause both teeth and fillings to crack or break.
There is a risk of the filling not fitting tightly enough against the tooth, coming loose, or breaking. If you feel a sharp edge on one of your teeth, notice a crack in or missing piece from the filling, or your tooth is very sensitive, contact your dentist. An X-ray may be necessary to determine if the filling is “leaking,” or allowing saliva or debris in between the tooth and filling, increasing the chance of developing a cavity there.
While fillings can last over a decade, they do eventually need to be replaced, especially if they have cracks or worn areas. Continuing to chew with a damaged filling can cause more damage to the tooth underneath and may become a bigger problem than just a simple replacement. Your dentist will check your fillings at your regular exams and let you know when a filling needs to be replaced.
How much do fillings cost?
The price of a filling depends on the material used. Single silver amalgam fillings (the most common and widely covered by insurance) cost anywhere between $50 to $150. Costs can range from $90 to $250 for composite (tooth-colored) fillings and from $250 to $4,500 for gold or porcelain.
Most dental insurance plans cover nearly all the expenses associated with fillings. Some plans may require a deductible or copay, or plan limitations may require additional out-of-pocket costs for fillings other than silver amalgam. If you are unsure, be sure to ask your dentist and/or your insurance company.