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Fillings: A guide to cavity treatment

Here is what you need to know about getting a cavity filled.


Need a filling? 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. But if it’s your first time getting a cavity treated, here’s what to expect.

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 vacuum up any debris. 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.

Getting a tooth filled? Here's what to expect.

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.

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.

Other 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. Your dentist can advise you on the best options for your needs and dental coverage.

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Last updated: July 2018