What are dental fillings?

Dental fillings last for various lengths of time depending on the material.
Dental fillings last for various lengths of time depending on the material.

Dental fillings are hard filling substances (such as gold, silver, ceramic) used to repair decayed or damaged teeth. They fill holes caused by tooth damage. Usually, dental fillings cannot completely repair the entire damage to teeth, but they are necessary to replace the tooth structure which has been damaged due to tooth decay and prevents it from worsening.

How long do dental fillings last?

The durability and lifetime of dental fillings depends on the type of dental filling used. There are many types of filling substances. The choice of filling is made by the doctor (with the patient’s consent) and is based on the severity and location of tooth damage.

Types of dental filling

  • Cast gold filling: These last at least 10 to 15 years or longer.
    • Advantages of cast gold fillings: They are durable. They don’t erode and can withstand hard chewing. Some patients find gold filling more aesthetic than silver.
    • Disadvantages of cast gold fillings: It is expensive. They require two sittings to be fit. A gold filling can’t be placed right next to a silver amalgam filling because it can create a galvanic shock, which causes sharp pain. Some patients don’t like gold-colored fillings.
  • Silver fillings (amalgams): These last for at least 10 to 15 years.
    • Advantages of silver fillings: They are durable and usually outlast composite (tooth-colored) fillings. They can withstand strong forces. They are less expensive than gold and composite fillings.
    • Disadvantages of silver fillings: Patients may not find silver fillings aesthetically pleasing. They may create a grey discoloration on the surrounding tooth. Healthy parts of the tooth also need to be removed to fit and hold silver fillings. Silver can cause the tooth to crack because generally, all teeth expand and contract in the presence of hot and cold foods and liquids. Some people may develop allergic reactions to the 1% mercury in silver amalgam fillings.
  • Tooth-colored or composite fillings: These usually last for around 5 years.
    • Advantages of composites
      • They are aesthetically pleasing because the color closely matches the existing teeth. Hence, they are ideal for repairing visible teeth. Composites are particularly well suited to use for front teeth or visible parts of the teeth.
      • Composite fillings are versatile and can also be used to repair chipped or worn out teeth. Only a small bit of the healthy tooth needs to be removed, unlike with silver amalgam fillings.
    • Disadvantages of composites: These lack durability and can’t withstand chewing forces as well as gold and silver fillings. They have a high risk of chipping. The procedure takes longer than it takes to place silver amalgam fillings. More than one sitting may be required. They are more expensive than amalgam fillings.
  • Ceramic fillings: These fillings are usually made of porcelain/ceramic. They last more than 15 years. They are more durable than composite fillings. They are as expensive as gold fillings.
  • Glass ionomer fillings: These last around 5 years. They are made of acrylic and a specific type of glass. They are mostly used in children and for filling below the gum line. Glass ionomers release fluoride, which can help protect the tooth from further decay.
  • Indirect fillings: Indirect fillings are similar to tooth-colored fillings and they are created in a dental laboratory. They usually require two clinic visits before being placed. Indirect fillings may be used when there is not enough healthy tooth structure remaining to support a filling. During the first visit, decay or the old filling is removed and an impression/mold is taken of the teeth to create the indirect filling in the lab. A temporary filling is placed to protect the tooth until the filling is made in the lab. During the second visit, the temporary filling is removed and the indirect filling is placed permanently.
    • There are two types of indirect fillings. They both last over 30 years and are more durable than traditional fillings
      • Inlays: These are similar to fillings but they lie within the tooth cusps over the chewing surface of the tooth.
      • Onlays: These are more extensive and involve one or more tooth cusps. They are sometimes called partial crowns.
  • Temporary fillings: These usually last for a month. They may be used in the following conditions
    • For fillings that require more than one sitting until a permanent filling is placed
    • Following a root canal
    • If the tooth pulp becomes irritated, a temporary filling may be placed to protect the tooth, decrease sensitivity and reduce pain
    • If an emergency dental treatment is required

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Medically Reviewed on 10/4/2020
References
Medscape Medical Reference

Victoria State Government


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