overview of dental fillings

A complete overview of dental fillings

A dental filling is a restoration placed in the tooth to restore its appearance and functionality.

The filling is used to fill a gap or a hole in the tooth. The hole in the tooth may have been caused by dental cavities and decay. After cleaning the cavities, the dental filling is put in place to restore functionality.

Your dentist will decide whether the hole is small enough to be filled in with dental filling. If the hole is large and does not have enough dental structure to support it, then the filling may pressurise the inner wall of the tooth and cause it to break down. In such cases, inlays or onlays are used. These are called indirect fillings.

Indirect fillings are made in the lab and shaped like chewing surfaces of the teeth. They are similar to a crown but they are not a full tooth, only the upper chewing surface of the tooth is covered by the filling material and cemented in place.

What is the procedure to install dental fillings into your tooth?

When you visit a dental clinic with a toothache, your dentist will check for the cause of the pain to determine whether the tooth has developed cavities or if it is something else.

Before working on the tooth, they will anesthetize the surrounding area which will numb your cheek, gums and lips. They will then check for the extent of damage done by the decay and see if the tooth can support dental filling.

If the decay has reached the roots of the tooth a root canal will need to be performed. After doing root canal treatment, the dentist will clean the area in and around the concerned tooth and sanitize the area completely.

The dental filling will be chosen in consultation with you, based on your need and preferences. When the decay is deep and almost touch the roots, then the cavity is usually lined with glass ionomer to protect the nerve.

Then if the tooth is strong enough, the cavity can be filled with the material of your choice. If inlays or onlays are going to be used, then the cavity must be filled with a temporary filling first. After the prepared inlays and onlays arrive from the lab, the temporary filling will be removed. The inlays or onlays will be cemented on to the tooth with dental grade cement.

When the cavity is filled with the dental filling, the dentist will use a laser light to harden the filling in layers so that all of the filling hardens and keeps in place for a long time. When the process is completed, the dentist will contour the filling to the desired shape by trimming off excess and polishing the restored tooth. After the process is completed, it will look like your natural tooth.

What are different types of dental filling materials available?

There are a variety of dental filling materials available to choose from.

Each dental filling material is little different from others, depending on its cost, durability and aesthetics. The most commonly used materials include the following.


Gold fillings are mostly preferred for their durability. Gold does not corrode and lasts almost for a life time, because it is strong and can bear the pressure of chewing. It also appears pleasing to some people.

The major disadvantage of gold fillings is its cost. Gold is very expensive, may be more than 10 times the price of amalgam fillings. It also requires more than one visit to install.  It stands out because of its colour since it cannot be natural coloured like porcelain.

Silver amalgam

These are long lasting durable fillings and will last for at least 15 years. It is strong enough to withstand chewing pressures for years, and is less expensive than composite fillings.

The major disadvantage of silver fillings is its appearance. It does not match with the tooth’s natural colour and stands out. It also gives a greyish hue to neighbouring teeth making them look dull and coloured.

It also takes up more space and therefore natural tooth has to be reduced to fit in the amalgam filling. Sometimes due to its expansion and contraction qualities in the presence of cold and hot foods, it may slowly crack the surrounding teeth.

Since it also has mercury in it, some people who are allergic to mercury may develop an allergic reaction.

Tooth coloured composite dental fillings

These fillings can be made to look exactly the same colour as your teeth. That is why many people prefer it, especially for their front teeth. They bond superbly with the teeth structure and this quality makes them provide excellent support to the neighbouring teeth. It is used as a material for restoration for chipped and broken teeth also, and is used more because it does not require the natural tooth material to be reduced to fit it in.

The major disadvantage of composite teeth fillings is its short life. They may last for 5 years at the most. They are not great at taking chewing pressure, which is why they last for a shorter time than amalgam or gold. They can chip off the tooth easily and costs more than double the cost of amalgams.


These are made of porcelain and are stain resistant. They are usually quite long lasting. The main disadvantage is the cost aspect. Ceramic is quite expensive but looks great and very natural because it can be ordered to match the colour of your teeth.

Glass ionomer

This is made of glass and acrylic which is used for below the gum fillings. The fillings are preferred because glass ionomer release fluoride which is a necessity for to protect teeth and gums. The major disadvantage is its fragility. It is not strong enough to last for more than 5 years.

You can decide on the type of material in consultation with your dentist who will decide keeping in mind your specific needs.

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