A dental filling is a procedure used to fill a hole, or cavity, in your tooth. Various materials can be used as fillings. Your dentist will usually advise you which is suitable for you.
What types of filling are there?
There are many different types of filling materials. They vary in how they look, how strong they are, how long they usually last and their cost. Your dentist will choose a filling material based on several factors, including the size and location of your cavity. Below are some common types of filling.
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, by children and by people with kidney disease.
Composite resin is a white or tooth-coloured material. It can be matched to your tooth colour and looks more natural than amalgam, but it is a bit more expensive. 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 your 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 your tooth colour, but gold is gold. Both these fillings are more expensive than amalgam.
What to expect after a filling
After a filling, your 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.
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, your dentist will usually check your fillings during a regular dental check-up.
Alternatives to a dental filling
If the tooth decay is very serious and the tooth can't be repaired, the tooth may have to be taken out.
Last reviewed: March 2017