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A guide to cavity treatment

Do you have fillings? You’re not alone. Ninety-two percent of adults have had at least one cavity by age 64, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. If you need to get one filled, here’s what to expect during treatment.

What happens when you get a filling?

Your dentist will use a drill to remove the decay (or worn-out filling, if you need a replacement filling). He or she may spray air or water to keep the area clean and will vacuum up any debris generated during drilling. Then, the filling material is placed in the tooth. For resin composite fillings, a blue light is used to harden the material. Finally, your dentist will shape the surface of the filling to fit your bite.

What are fillings made of?

There are two main types of fillings: amalgam and composite resin.

An amalgam filling is a stable mix of metals, including mercury, silver, tin and copper. Because of its silver color, amalgam fillings are typically used in parts of the mouth that are hard to see. These durable fillings are preferred for high-stress chewing areas, such as molar teeth, and usually cost less than composite fillings. Despite the presence of mercury, studies have found that amalgam fillings are safe for adults and kids six years and over. Amalgam fillings are proven, economical and long lasting. However, they are noticeable since they're metallic and some people may have sensitivities to the metals used in them.

For cavities in visible parts of the mouth, a composite resin filling is a popular choice since the tooth-colored plastic material blends in easily. They're discrete, easy to place and their flexibility helps to preserve the maximum amount of your natural tooth. They do require more frequent replacement than amalgam fillings, and it can be a more involved process to get them done.

Other filling options include gold and ceramic, which can be costly but are extremely durable. These types of materials are less likely to be covered by your dental plan.

Be sure to discuss your options with your dentist when you need a filling. Your dentist can advise you on the best solution for your needs and dental coverage.

Last updated February 25, 2022

The oral health information on this website is intended for educational purposes only. Always consult a licensed dentist or other qualified health care professional for any questions concerning your oral health.