Dental fillings

A filling could be used to strengthen and protect a decayed or damaged tooth.

Why might I need a filling?

Cavities are areas of permanent damage to the hard surfaces of your teeth, which can develop into tiny openings and larger holes. These are caused by oral bacteria (found in plaque) feasting on the sugars in your food and drinks.

If left untreated, cavities can get larger and start to affect the deeper layers of your teeth, resulting in sensitivity, toothache, infection and, in severe cases, tooth loss.

As well as treating cavities and protecting against future decay, fillings can also be used to restore the integrity of chipped, cracked, or broken teeth. They’re also used to seal teeth which have undergone root canal treatment.



Types of dental filling

There’s a lot of variation in dental fillings, depending on the tooth, what’s wrong with it and, of course, your preferences.

Direct fillings

Once a damaged tooth has been prepared, a filling material can be placed and cured straight away, often within a single visit.

Indirect fillings

The following treatment types might take a couple of visits to complete but, working with our laboratory, the result will be a tailor-made filling to restore your smile.

  • Inlays are commonly used to fill the inner surface of a tooth.
  • Onlays fill the inside and part of the tooth’s cusp (the bumpy chewing surface).
  • Overlays fill the inside and cusp of a tooth.

Onlays and overlays are sometimes referred to as partial crowns.

Depending on the condition of the tooth, the next level could be a full dental crown.

What are fillings made of?

There are a range of filling materials available:

Silver (amalgam) fillings

What’s good about them?

  • Silver fillings are very durable, lasting at least 10-15 years when well maintained.
  • They’re strong, able to withstand strong chewing forces.
  • They’re also one of the least expensive options.

Are there drawbacks?

  • Many people don’t like the aesthetic of silver fillings – they are more noticeable, so they’re most common in back teeth.
  • An aperture might need to be enlarged to make enough space to contain an amalgam filling.
    Silver fillings can cause a tooth to look greyer in general.
  • As amalgam is a metal filling, it could expand and contract more than the natural tooth surrounding it. It’s not common, but this could result in your tooth fracturing.
  • Some people (around 1%) are allergic to the small amount of mercury present in amalgam filling material.

Gold fillings

What’s good about them?

  • Gold fillings are durable, lasting at least 10-15 years when well maintained.
  • They’re strong, able to withstand strong chewing forces.
  • Some patients prefer the aesthetic of gold fillings, compared with the silver amalgam equivalent.

Are there drawbacks?

  • Because they’re made with precious material, gold fillings are the most expensive option for dental fillings.
  • An aperture might need to be enlarged to contain a gold filling.
  • As gold is a metal, it could expand and contract more than the natural tooth surrounding it. It’s not common, but this could result in your tooth fracturing.
  • In very rare cases, a gold filling placed next-door to a tooth with a silver filling can result in galvanic shock. This is caused by an electric current passing between each metal, aided by your saliva.

Tooth-coloured composite fillings

What’s good about them?

  • Composite filling material comes in a range of shades, so can be matched to your natural teeth. That makes them very popular, especially for front teeth.
  • Composite materials bond extremely well to your teeth, offering excellent support.
  • As well as fillings, composite can be used to improve the aesthetic appeal of your smile, including restoring chipped, broken, or worn and discoloured teeth.
  • Depending on the situation, composite can be used to fill holes without the need to significantly enlarge and existing cavity or hole.

Are there drawbacks?

  • Composite fillings cost significantly more than silver amalgam fillings.
  • They’re also less durable, lasting 5-10 years – i.e., less time than silver or gold alternatives.
  • They aren’t as resilient against strong chewing forces.
  • Composite can chip.
  • You might want to replace a filling if it stains over time. Obviously, a man-made material won’t respond to treatments like tooth whitening in the same way that a natural tooth would.

Other types of filling

Ceramic – commonly made from porcelain, indirect fillings of this type are more resistant to staining and can last for 15 years or more. Porcelain is fragile though, so you’ll need to take good care of it. It’s also an expensive option, compared with resin-based composite.

Glass ionomer – made with specialist glass particles and acrylic, this material is commonly used for fillings below the gum-line, and to restore the teeth of young children. Ionomer releases fluoride over time, helping to protect the tooth, although it’s more susceptible to wear when compared with other filling materials. Once applied, it could last around 5 years.

How is a filling completed?

Your dentist will check through your medical history, examine your teeth and, if required, take x-rays to confirm the diagnosis and treatment options.

In particularly complex cases, you may need to be referred to a specialist – but most treatments can be completed routinely by your dentist or therapist.

If you choose to go ahead, it’s usual for local anaesthetic to be used to make sure that you don’t experience any major discomfort during your treatment.

We tend to use local anaesthetic in our surgeries, but other dentist and surgeons may use intravenous drugs to sedate or fully anaesthetise a patient.

When the treatment area is numb, your dentist will remove any decay using a dental drill or other specialist tools, before preparing the area for filling.

A lining of glass ionomer, or composite resin might be applied if the decay is near the root of your tooth, just to protect the nerve. Otherwise, the tooth will be filled and polished to complete the treatment.

If you’re having a tooth-coloured filling, depending how big or deep the filling will be, the filling may need to be completed in layers, curing each with a strong blue light before adding the next. That means a tooth-coloured filling can take a little longer to complete than an amalgam filling.

If you opt for an inlay, onlay or overlay, once your tooth has been prepared:

  1. We’ll take impressions, or scan your teeth, creating a model our lab colleagues can use to make a filling in your preferred material.
  2. You may be fitted with a temporary filling, just until your permanent filling is manufactured and ready to be fitted.
  3. We’ll get in touch once your lab-crafted filling is ready, inviting you back to the practice to have it fitted.
  4. Your temporary filling will be removed, and your permanent one fitted, ensuring that it sits comfortably before being cemented into place.

Are there any risks?

There are potential risks with any surgical procedure but ignoring decay or living with a broken tooth can lead to worse problems and complications in future.

Tooth pain or sensitivity is a common symptom after having a filling, but it’s usually quite mild and resolves by itself over a week or two, just while the tooth heals. You might want to avoid very hot or icy cold foods for a while. Sensitive toothpaste can help short-term and, although you probably won’t need it, you could take over-the-counter pain relief for a few days to make you more comfortable.

If the pain or sensitivity doesn’t go away, of course we’ll happily book you in to investigate further. In some cases, if a filling isn’t successful and the tissue doesn’t heal, you may need to undergo root canal treatment, or tooth extraction.

Allergies to filling materials are extremely rare, but theoretically possible. Skin rashes and itching could be a reaction to the mercury or other metals used in some amalgam fillings. If an allergy is established, we can remove the offending filling and replace it using an alternative material.

Wear and tear – pressure from chewing and all other activities your teeth are involved with, can wear away, chip or crack dental fillings. Your dentist will keep an eye on your fillings at your routine check-ups, looking for any weaknesses, but no filling will last forever.

Keeping up with your check-ups is important. If your fillings aren’t fully sound, sealing the cavity in your tooth, food and decay-causing bacteria can infiltrate, causing further erosion and possible infection. If left untreated, you may need more invasive and costly treatment down the line, or you could even lose the tooth.

How much do fillings cost?

For a single tooth, our treatment costs are detailed below:

Silver amalgam fillings
Private patients from: £105
With Denplan Essentials from: £94.50
With Denplan Care: covered

Composite fillings
Private patients from: £110
With Denplan Essentials from: £99
With Denplan Care: covered

Gold and ceramic fillings: book a consultation to get a quote

After having a dental filling

Your dentist will provide information and answer any question you have, but you might also like to refer-back to the information below:

Keep the area clean – just be extra careful when you brush for a few days, as your teeth could be a little sensitive after your treatment.

Get a lift home – you could feel a little light-headed after having anaesthetic, so it’s a good idea for someone else to give you a lift home. If that’s not an option, you might like to take a bus, train, or taxi.

Choose softer foods – you might struggle with crunchy foods for a couple of days, so opt for soft things like pasta, rice, stew, yoghurt, or soups.

If you’ve got mild pain – you should be able to manage this at home using over-the-counter pain relief, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. Sensitive formula toothpaste is also very effective at reducing some symptoms.

We’ll do all we can to make sure there aren’t any complications, but if you need help or advice after your treatment, please just get in touch.

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