What Are Dental Fillings?

What Are Dental Fillings?

Dental fillings are one of the most common procedures performed in any dentist’s office, and they serve a very important purpose for patients. Fillings are the easiest and least-expensive way to correct tooth decay and cavities, and they also prevent decay from spreading any farther in the tooth. Chances are at some point most patients will need a filling or two, but proper brushing and flossing techniques reduce the need for fillings both early and later in life. And yes - fillings typically require the dentist to use a drill, but they are nothing to be scared of when you’re in the dentist’s chair. Let’s learn more about what dental fillings are.

When Do I Need Fillings?

Often your dentist and oral hygienist will be the ones to identify when you need a filling, but there are some general signs to look out for if you’re not due for a checkup soon. Increased sensitivity in a tooth or the appearance of a blackish cavity often signals that a dental filling may be needed. Often tooth decay that requires fillings first appears in the molars, or large teeth in the back of the mouth, but cavities and tooth decay can appear anywhere. Aside from tooth decay, fillings can be used to repair teeth damaged by other circumstances as well. If you grind your teeth at night or have damage from behaviors like habitually chewing ice, then you may need fillings as well. 

What Are Fillings Made Of?

A variety of materials have been used for fillings over the years, most famously silver (also known as silver amalgam or just amalgam) and gold. An Amalgam filing is another word for a collection of metals bonded to the teeth. While some dentists still use amalgam fillings around the world, it is not something we would recommend for patients today. Instead dentists rely on composite fillings, and they are superior to any amalgam fillings. While amalgam fillings can expand when exposed to heat or contract when exposed to cold, composite fillings do not react to temperature. Composite fillings are also stronger than other fillings and they won’t crack or break, which makes them the most durable option. 

How The Procedure Works

Once your dentist has identified which area or areas will need fillings, they will create a treatment plan. In some cases, substantial dental work may require more than one appointment to complete all the fillings. While you may prefer to get it all done in one visit, after a couple hours in the dental chair, you’ll be ready for a break too! The procedure begins with a local anesthetic injected into the gum in the area where you’ll be receiving fillings. If you’re worried about the anesthetic, we recommend reading How To Prepare For Dental Anesthesia. 


 Once your gums and the nearby teeth are numb, the dentist begins by cleaning out the decayed material. A tooth block or a specialized suction device is placed in the patient’s mouth to make the work easier. A dental drill is the most common device used to remove decay and prepare the tooth for fillings. As the dentist drills, the dental assistant applies water when needed and suctions the area to safely remove the decayed material. For teeth like molars, the drilling is pretty straightforward, but when decay is present in hard to reach areas, your dentist may need to drill between your teeth as well. Since the anesthetic is applied to the nearby area, the patient will feel no pain, only pressure and vibration.


Once the area is free of the decay, the dentist cleans it and may add a priming or base material if the drilling is close to the tooth root. Then the dentist applies the composite filling and shapes it to cover and protect all the vulnerable area. Once satisfied with the filling application, a device that emits a curing light is placed over the filling to harden it. After the filling has hardened and been inspected, the last step is to polish the filling so it is smooth.     

What To Expect After Your Fillings Are Complete

Whether you receive one filling or several in a visit, the recovery process is essentially the same. You will not be able to eat for several hours while you wait for the local anesthetic to wear off. You may not be able to speak clearly while the anesthetic wears off, which usually takes 2-4 hours depending on the patient. For the next few weeks, you may experience increased sensitivity in the area of the filling, and this is completely normal. However if you experience sharp, unusual pain or continued sensitivity after several weeks, contact your dentist. With proper care and oral hygiene, the fillings will last 10 years or more. You will be able to eat normally with them after the procedure is complete, and they will also improve the appearance of your teeth versus when they had cavities or decay.

Still Have Questions?   

Fillings are a common dental procedure and an easy one for any patient to experience. However if you still have questions or are curious if the pain or sensitivity you are experiencing requires a filling, be sure to contact us at Grace & Leedy Family Dentistry to learn more. We are committed to making every procedure from a simple cleaning to dental fillings and more as comfortable as possible.
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