A dental filling is a kind of restorative dentistry treatment that repairs and evens out tooth surfaces. It is helpful when treatment is needed for tooth decay, minor tooth fractures, or tooth surfaces that are damaged. Dental fillings may be made of composite, porcelain, or silver amalgam. After a filling is done, your teeth should better perform its functional roles of biting and chewing.

Dental fillings also reduce tooth sensitivity caused by enamel loss. Enamel loss is a usually a factor in tooth decay. Dental fillings may not be appropriate for all cases of tooth decay and damage. In such cases, your dentist may recommend additional or alternative treatments. For instance, if your teeth need more support than a traditional filling might offer, your dentist may recommend a dental crown. If your tooth is extensively damaged such that it needs to be extracted, dental implants or bridges may be the preferred treatment. With an infected or nerve damaged tooth, a root canal will likely be a more appropriate alternative.

Dental Filling Materials

Dental filling materials basically fall into two types: composite or amalgam. Composite or porcelain fillings are tooth-colored and look naturally white, whereas amalgam fillings are silver and other metals.

There are a number of advantages and disadvantages to consider when you are making a decision about composite and amalgam fillings. Among these are differences in cost, treatment time, durability, and esthetic value.

Factors in Choosing Materials

Safety and Appearance: Amalgam fillings may be a poor choice for people with metal sensitivities. Some have described a metal taste in the mouth from amalgam fillings. On a more cautious note, it has been thought that people with amalgam fillings are at a risk of mercury toxicity. However, no studies have proven there are hazards of having mercury as a component of amalgam dental fillings. Composite fillings do not contain metals that may cause sensitivity or toxicity, and have a further benefit of offering a more attractive and natural tooth-like appearance.

Durability: Amalgam fillings tend to be more durable than composites. However, recent advances in dental research and technology have resulted in improvements in the strength of composite resin materials, such that composite fillings may used for all teeth including molars. In addition, composites are less likely to have the potential disadvantage of weakening the affected tooth, compared to amalgam fillings.

Tooth Shaping: Composite materials typically require less tooth preparation than amalgams. This usually means that your dentist will remove less of your healthy tooth structure when performing a composite filling procedure.

Technique and Time: The process of placing a composite filling relies on your dentist’s technique, more so than with amalgam fillings. Extra equipment is used in composite filling, and the procedure may take up to 50 percent longer than an amalgam filling procedure.

Skill: Most dentists are competent in performing composite fillings, but the level of skill may differ from one dentist to the next. In your selection of an appropriate dentist, consider whether your dentist has had further education and training in composite restorations.

Filling Procedure

Tooth decay or damage is usually identified either at an emergency visit to your dentist triggered by a toothache, or during a regular dental checkup. Your dentist will evaluate your teeth, gums, and surrounding bone structure. Your dentist will detect any decay or damage on the surface of the tooth, and prepare the tooth before repairing the damaged area. A dental handheld instrument or laser is used to remove the decay or damage, after which the tooth is cleansed to eliminate dirt or bacteria.

If your dentist determines that a filling needs to be done, the tooth will first need to be isolated in order to prevent the interference of moisture with the bonding of the composite to the tooth. Your dentist will apply various adhesives on the damaged tooth, then place the composite material onto the area. The composite is then solidified with a special light. Your dental filling will restore your tooth so that it will be functional as well as natural looking.

Filling Costs

Compared to traditional amalgam fillings, composite fillings are normally more expensive due to a few factors. The material used for composite fillings are more costly, and the process requires more sophistication and additional office equipment. Despite the cost, people prefer composite materials because they are more esthetically pleasing than traditional amalgam materials. Those who have amalgam fillings from previous dental treatments often request to have them replaced with composite fillings.

The cost of a dental filling varies depending on your dentist, the geographical location of where the procedure is performed, your dental insurance, and the number of tooth surfaces that need filling. For instance, you may have one tooth that has only a single surface affected by decay or damage, while another tooth has one or all surfaces that are decayed or damaged.

The expected longevity of amalgam fillings is approximately 12 years, while composite fillings are likely to last five to seven years. How long your fillings last depends on individual considerations, your level of oral hygiene, the care with which you treat your teeth, and your commitment to follow up on dental visits.