The Most Common Types of Dental Filling

What are dental fillings? Are some types more common than others? In this post our Edmonton dentists list various types of dental fillings and when they may be recommended. We also explain how lost or broken fillings can be repaired in emergencies.

What are dental fillings?

Metal, plastic, glass and composite materials are often used in combination or exclusively to make dental fillings, which are used to repair or restore teeth. 

This aptly named dental restoration fills an area of tooth that's been removed by your dentist due to damage or decay - what's often referred to as a cavity. Fillings are also used to repair cracked or fractured teeth, and teeth that have been worn down from tooth grinding, nail biting and other causes. 

What are the different types of materials in dental fillings?

Dental fillings contain various types of materials, including silver amalgam, composite, ceramics, and glass ionomer. There are some advantages and disadvantages that may factor into which type of filling your dentist recommends, and which will be the most suitable for your circumstances. 

Gold Fillings

While they last at least 10 to 15 years and some claim they have an aesthetically pleasing experience, gold fillings are more expensive than other materials and may require multiple visits to your dentist's office to have placed. 

Silver Fillings 

Silver (otherwise known as amalgam) fillings also tend to last at least 10 to 15 years provided they are properly cared for and tend to be less costly than composite fillings.

That said, more tooth may need to be removed to accommodate these types of fillings as they are larger than others. You may also noticed a greyish tone on the surrounding tooth structure. There may also be an increased risk of fracturing or cracking the filling as it expands or contracts. Some people may also be allergic to silver. 

Tooth-Coloured Composite Fillings 

These are popular fillings as the shade can be colour matched to your existing teeth. The filling also bonds to your existing tooth structure to provide additional support. This type of filling is often used to repair teeth rather than fill cavities. 

Composite or tooth-coloured fillings tend to last five years vs. 10 to 15 years you may get out of gold or silver fillings. They may also take your dentist more time and/or additional visits to place. 

Ceramics or Porcelain Fillings 

Ceramics and porcelain tend to be more resistant to staining than composite resin material and last more than 15 years. However, they depending on a variety of factors, they may cost as much as gold fillings. 

Glass Ionomer 

Glass ionomer fillings often contain acrylic and are mostly used for fillings placed below the gum line. While they release fluoride that can help protect your teeth against further decay, this material is weaker than composite resin and may fracture and be prone to wear. They tend to last five years or less. 

Indirect Fillings 

Sometimes, you may not have enough remaining tooth structure to support a filling, but your tooth is not  damaged that a crown is required. This is where your dentist may recommend indirect fillings, which are similar to composite or tooth-coloured fillings except that they are created in a dental laboratory and require multiple visits to be placed. 

During your first visit, an old filling or tooth decay is removed and your dentist will take an impression to note the shape of the tooth to be repaired, along with the teeth around it. 

The impression is then sent to a dental laboratory, where the indirect filling is created. In the meantime, a temporary filling is placed to protect the tooth until you visit the dentist for the second time. 

During this second visit, the dentist removes the temporary filling and checks the fit of the indirect filling before cementing it into place. 

Inlays and onlays are the two types of indirect fillings.

Inlays are placed on the chewing surfaces of the tooth, within the cusps (bumps), while onlays cover one or more cusps. You might hear onlays referred to as partial crowns. 

Both inlays and onlays can last up to 30 years - much longer than traditional fillings - and can be made of porcelain, gold or tooth-coloured composite resin. 

Direct inlays and onlays are another type that are different from indirect inlays and onlays in that they are made in the dental office and can be placed by a dentist during one visit. 

The amount of remaining solid tooth structure and aesthetic issues will determine the type of inlay or onlay our dentists use. 

Temporary Fillings 

You may require a temporary filling:

  • If emergency dental treatment is required (e.g.: to alleviate a toothache)
  • After a root canal
  • If more than one appointment is needed for your filling 
  • To allow your tooth's nerve to settle if the pulp is irritated 

Since these fillings are temporary, they will usually wear out or break within a month. Make sure to keep your appointment to have your temporary filling replaced with a permanent one. If you don't, your tooth may become infected or other complications could arise. 

Repairing Lost or Broken Fillings at Emergency Dental Clinics

If lost or broken fillings are not repaired right away, they can leave tissue exposed that can leave you at risk for intense sensitivity or pain. Bacteria can also collect in your mouth, causing the tooth to further deteriorate. This can also potentially lead to other dental emergencies.  

If you have a damaged, broken or lost filling and can't get to the dentist right away, your tooth may be very sensitive. In that case, you can try these options:

  • Avoid very hot or cold foods and drinks. 
  • Apply an over-the-counter dental anesthetic such as Orajel (benzocaine) or Anbesol (lidocaine), or clove oil, all of which you can find at most pharmacies. 
  • Use an over-the-counter pain medication such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. 

Once you come in for an appointment, we'll take an X-ray to determine how to treat the tooth, and recommend options for filling material. Sometimes, a root canal or crown may be needed to ensure the tooth's integrity, or an extraction may need to be performed. Typically, the filling will simply be replaced.  

Have you lost or broken a filling? Contact our Edmonton dentists right away. We can examine the problem and recommend treatment options.

Have a dental emergency in Edmonton? We're here on weekends and after hours to help.

Dental emergencies always happen when you least expect them. Our friendly and experienced dental team is on call to assist you when you need us most.

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