What is a dental filling?
A dental filling is a procedure used to fill a hole, or cavity, in a tooth. You may need a filling if you have tooth decay or if the structure of the tooth is lost due to trauma. These problems may be found when you have a dental x-ray.
What types of filling are there?
Various materials can be used as fillings. Your dentist will usually advise you which is suitable for you.
Amalgam has been used for more than 150 years. It is a mixture of metals, including silver, copper, tin, mercury and zinc, and is a very strong filling material. Although exposure to mercury can be toxic, amalgam is safe and effective to use for most people. The Australian Dental Association continues to support the use of amalgam fillings. However, they suggest minimising their use in pregnant or breastfeeding women, children and in people with kidney disease.
Composite resin is a white or tooth-coloured material. It can be matched to the colour of the other teeth and looks more natural than amalgam, but it is a bit more expensive. Some studies have suggested it might not last as long when used to fill adult back teeth, where there is a lot of pressure.
Glass-ionomer cement can also be matched to tooth colour, but it might not last as long as composite resin. It is usually used in areas where there is not much biting force and on baby teeth.
Gold and porcelain fillings
Gold and porcelain are long-lasting fillings. Porcelain fillings can be matched to the colour of the other teeth, but gold is gold. Both these fillings are more expensive than amalgam.
If there is not time to finish treating a tooth, the dentist may suggest a short-term temporary filling. This will be replaced by a permanent filling at a later date.
What to expect after a filling
After a filling, the affected tooth might feel sensitive when you eat something sweet or bite your teeth together, or when the temperature changes. You should see your dentist if this continues.
What are the benefits and risks of a filling?
A filling is usually a simple, early treatment for tooth decay and it might make the tooth sensitive for a short time. Over time, fillings may chip or crack, allowing food to become trapped between the tooth and the filling. However, a dentist will usually check your fillings during a regular dental check-up.
What are the alternatives to a dental filling?
Sometimes a dentist may use a crown rather than a filling. A crown fits over the tooth to protect its structure, and may be used if there is not enough tooth left to support a filling.
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Last reviewed: January 2021