Dental fillings

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.

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What types of fillings are there?

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 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.

Temporary fillings - 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.

Benefits and risks of dental fillings

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.  

Post -operative sensitivity may occur following your dental filling, please call your dentist to discuss the symptoms if you experience pain or discomfort.

Dental fillings do not last forever and can break down over time. Dental fillings need replacement once they show signs of breakage, recurrent decay and change in colour. This is why it is important to see a dentist regularly to have old fillings checked and monitored.

What is an alternative to dental fillings?

Depending on the condition, sometimes a dentist will recommend a crown instead of a filling for teeth that are already heavily filled. Crowns last much longer than dental fillings but are also more expensive. It is important to speak with your dentist about which is the best option for you. For children, sometimes tooth decay can be treated with caries status disclosing solution (CSDS)​, where we apply silver fluoride on the teeth in order to stop the tooth decay from progressing.

Dental fillings procedure

Once your dentist has assessed your case and determined a tooth filling is the best solution, you will be booked in for your next treatment. In general, a filling treatment can last anywhere roughly between 30 minutes to an hour to complete all the necessary dental work.

Most dentists will prepare the area with numbing spray/gel before local anaesthetic is used. This creates a more comfortable experience for patients by lessening the feeling of the local anaesthetic needle.

Once the area is completely numb, the dentist will remove any decay with a drill and seal the area with a filling. To maintain proper bite function, the dentist will check with the patient to ensure that their bite feels normal. If necessary, part of the filling will be filed down to restore the natural bite.

After care for dental fillings

It is important for you to take care of your dental filling after it is complete. 

Tips on taking care of your filling:

  • Clean well around the filling, including brushing your teeth minimum twice daily and flossing daily

  • Keep up with your appointments to 

  • Drink plenty of water and incorporate a healthy diet into your lifestyle

  • Avoid hard or chewy foods