Dental fillings, or tooth fillings, are one of the most common dental procedures. A dental filling is frequently used to treat a cavity in the tooth. Cavities are caused by tooth decay, in which the structure of the tooth is destroyed. Cavities may be restricted to the outer coating of the tooth, called the enamel, or may include the inner layer, called the dentin. A dental filling may also be used to treat a broken or cracked tooth or teeth that have become worn down as a result of grinding or nail-biting.

Signs and symptoms that you need a cavity filled


These are things that you may notice that do not involve experiencing any adverse sensations. Signs that you may need a tooth filling include:

  • Floss gets continually stuck and tears in the same spot over and over again.
  • You can see a dark hole or feel it with your tongue.
  • Food is always getting stuck between the same teeth all the time.
  • Broken or lost filling
  • Broken or chipped tooth

    Dental Fillings


Symptoms are things that you feel. When you need a tooth filling, the most common feeling is pain:

  • Pain on chewing or biting
  • Throbbing or sharp pain
  • Sensitivity to cold, heat, pressure or sweetness

Types of Dental Fillings

Your dentist will discuss with you the type that is best for your particular situation. Tooth fillings are distinguishable based on their composition and cost. Factors that the dentist will take into consideration when helping you choose a tooth filling are the area of the mouth where the repair is needed and the extent of the damage. There are four different types of tooth filling. These are gold, silver (amalgam), porcelain or composite (plastic).

  • Silver (amalgam) fillings are a combination of silver, copper and a tiny amount of elemental mercury. Mercury in this form is not absorbed by the body and organizations like the World Health Organization, the American Dental Association and the U.S. Public Health Service approve its use. These dental fillings, while inexpensive, are dark and very noticeable so must often used at the back of the mouth.
  • Gold dental fillings are long-lasting and one of the most expensive choices. The metal is well-tolerated by gum tissue. A gold tooth filling may last 20 years or longer.
  • Composite (plastic) dental fillings may be matched to the natural color of the teeth but may not last as long as gold. They may become chipped or discolored over time.
  • Porcelain tooth fillings are made in a lab and bonded to the tooth by your dentist. Like composite, they may be matched to natural tooth color. They are long-lasting, nearly undetectable and cost around the same as a gold filling.

Cavity Basics

If you have a cavity, you’re certainly not alone. About 20% of Americans have at least one cavity, and cavities are one of the most common oral health issues.

Thankfully, they’re also treatable. It helps to know how cavities form, how to prevent them, and what treatments are available. Let’s take a look at some basic cavity information.

How cavities form

Cavities begin with plaque buildup on the teeth. Plaque forms when sugary, sticky foods like sugar, candy, and other substances combine with bacteria. When this happens, a soft, thin film forms on the teeth. Once plaque stays on your teeth long enough, it becomes the gateway for cavities to form.

Once plaque sticks around (no pun intended) long enough, regular consumption of sugar and other acid-forming foods eventually cause small holes in your teeth enamel. Without proper dental care, these small holes eventually grow, which leads to tooth decay.

So, the basic cavity equation is poor dental care + sugary and sticky foods = plaque. Eventually, plaque = cavities.

How to prevent cavities

Here are a few things you can do to prevent cavities:

  • Avoid sugary, sweet foods
  • Brush your teeth at least twice per day
  • Floss often – at least once per day
  • Use an antiseptic mouthwash when possible
  • Watch your diet – eat mostly whole, natural foods

How long does it take to get a cavity filled?

One of the most popular cavity treatments is a filling. This simple procedure involves removing the damaged tooth area (in this case, enamel and the inner tooth affected by a cavity), cleaning out the infected area, and applying a filling material. Most cavities are filled in less than 20 minutes, although some can take longer, depending on how much tooth decay occurred.

Related Articles about Dental Fillings and Cavities

Do I have a Cavity?

How Your Teeth Rot

Detecting Cavities and Treating Them

Are Amalgam Fillings Really Toxic?

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