Have you ever had a cavity? If you haven’t, then you’re to be congratulated – you’ve taken great care of your teeth. Most people, though (about 78%) have experienced the pain of dental decay by the time they’re seventeen years old, according to a US General Surgeon report. So, if you’re in the majority, what do you do? You get a filling.

What is a Filling?

A filling is just exactly what it sounds like. It’s a means of sealing the hole in your tooth, a cavity, that’s caused by decay. Getting a filling means that the decay doesn’t spread even further into your tooth, get into the pulp (which is the sensitive part of your tooth) and require further treatment, up to and including a root canal.

How Are Teeth Filled?

Teeth can be filled in a variety of ways. The process is pretty much the same, but the materials can vary. If your tooth needs to be filled, your dentist will first examine the tooth in order to determine how bad the decay is. Then the decayed area is removed, usually using a drill. You won’t be uncomfortable or in pain, because your dentist will anesthetize the tooth before drilling. Then the decay is removed, and the tooth is filled.

Types of Fillings

Your tooth will be filled either with metal, or with a material that matches the color of your tooth. The type of filling used will depend on the depth and seriousness of the cavity.


You’re probably familiar with amalgam fillings – these are the fillings that are made up of metals including silver, mercury, tin and copper. If mercury sounds scary, don’t worry – it bonds with the other metals so that it is both stable and safe. This type of filling is very strong, and very inexpensive. The problem is that it’s noticeable.


Gold is another metal that’s commonly used in fillings. It’s a very expensive type of restoration, but it will last for a long time. Again, the problem is that gold fillings are very noticeable.


If you don’t want your fillings to show, then composite is the right choice. Composite is a mixture of glass and plastic that bonds to your tooth. It’s more expensive than amalgam, but it won’t show up in your mouth.


This is the most expensive method of filling. Porcelain fillings last a long time, won’t stain, and don’t require much drilling in order to anchor them. However, they can be brittle.

Glass Ionomer

These fillings are made from glass and acrylic powders. They don’t cost much, and they blend in very well with your natural tooth color. However, they’re not as durable as other materials.

What Should You Expect?

When you get a filling, your dentist will numb your teeth so that you won’t experience any pain. The numbness will wear off in a couple of hours. Until it does, you shouldn’t drink or eat anything that is very hot or cold. If you experience pain in biting after the anesthetic has worn off, then you should contact your dentist. In the meantime, just brush and floss the same way you normally would. And remember, tooth decay is preventable – with good oral hygiene, your last cavity could really be your last!

Back to General Dentistry