Dental Fillings Q&A - Holladay Family Dental
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Dental Fillings Q&A

Dental Fillings Q&A

All of us dread going to the dentist for one reason and one reason alone—the C-word. Yep, you probably guessed it. Cavities. How are cavities treated? All of us know the answer to that question as well. Cavities are commonly treated by fillings. This means anesthesia, the hated drill, and then the filling. A dentist will drill out the decayed part of a tooth and fill it with something strong like porcelain or even gold. Even though this treatment is common—so common most of us have experienced it at least once—there is a lot to know about fillings. Hopefully, the information below will help you to feel more informed the next time you are at the dentist and will inspire you to avoid fillings in the first place!

1. Filling Materials Chart


Filling Material Lifespan Cost, Pros/Cons
Silver amalgam (mercury mixed with silver, tin, zinc, and copper 10-15 years or longer

Least expensive.

Can discolor teeth over time, more tooth drilled out to put in. More cracks in teeth. Mercury may contribute to other health problems.

Tooth colored composite 5-10 years or longer

Less expensive than porcelain or gold.

Can match color of existing teeth, bonds to tooth structure better than silver amalgams. Less durable than metal or porcelain.

Gold 10-15 years or longer

10X higher cost than silver amalgam.

Requires additional office visits, isn’t tooth colored, and is very durable.

Glass Ionomer (glass particles in a composite) Lasts about 5 years

Costs similar to composite fillings.

Used for fillings below gum line. Less durable

Porcelain 15 years or more

The most expensive option.
Costs more than gold.

Resistant to staining, can match tooth color, most durable option.

2. Are there any options out there besides a drill for getting rid of decay?

Currently, besides the drill, dentists can use an air abrader tool or a laser to remove decay.

Research is going on right now about eventually using stem cells to treat tooth decay instead of drilling and fillings. Perhaps sometime in our lifetimes the drill will be put away for good.

3. I chipped my tooth. Is there any way to repair it, so it looks back to normal?

Composite filling material can be used to repair cracked or broken teeth, or teeth worn down by grinding. Ask your dentist about this cost-effective, easy way to improve your smile.

4. What side effects should I expect from getting a filling done?

Fillings can make your mouth sensitive to air, sweets, and hot and cold. Usually, sensitivity resolves in a few weeks. If you have soreness or sensitivity that doesn’t go away, go back to your dentist. You may have an infection that will need further treatment.

5. How should I care for my teeth with fillings?

To maintain your fillings, it’s important to keep up with brushing and flossing to reduce the amount of bacteria that is on your fillings and the surrounding teeth. It’s also essential to keep up on regular checkups. A dentist will x-ray your teeth and can see if any fillings are cracked or if decay has formed around the edges of a fillings. By staying up on your dental care, you should be able to preserve fillings for years to come. With proper care, many fillings will last much longer than predicted on the chart above.

6. Is my tooth weakened by getting a filling?

Yes and no. Your tooth is much stronger, in one sense, having the decay removed. If the decay is not removed, it will spread and weaken the tooth until it must be pulled out. On the other hand, fillings, especially large, ones weaken the structure of the tooth and make it more prone to breaks and cracks. A filling, even a small one, starts your tooth on a filling cycle. In time, the one small filling will need to be redone and to redo it, the next filling will be larger. The next is even larger. Eventually the tooth may need a crown. Do all you can to stop your teeth from starting the filling cycle!