What is a dental filling?

Dental fillings

A dental filling is a dental restoration fabricated to artificially restore the function, anatomy and integrity of teeth that have been damaged by trauma or dental caries, also known as dental cavities or dental decay.

There are seven types of dental fillings (restorations) in two categories: Direct and Indirect.

  • Direct restorations are dental fillings made by placing dental filling material directly into your tooth. Dental filling materials used for direct restorations include:
    1. Amalgam, also known as Dental Amalgam or Silver Filling
    2. Resin, also known as Composite, Composite Resin, Tooth Colored Filling or White Filling
    3. Resin Ionomer
    4. Glass Ionomer
  • Indirect restorations are dental fillings made outside of your mouth, usually in a dental laboratory, and cemented into your tooth.
    1. Ceramic, also known as Porcelain
    2. Gold Alloy
    3. Base Metal Alloy

Why are dental fillings necessary?

Tooth fractures and tooth decay expose the interior of the tooth to bacteria that normally have no access to the inside of your teeth. Once inside the teeth, sugars, starches and bacteria dissolve healthy tooth structure and cause infection of the tissues within the teeth.

Restoring damaged tooth structure with dental filling material has a number of benefits including:

  • Limits damage caused by trauma and dental cavities, dental caries or dental decay.
  • Protects the remaining tooth structure from further damage.
  • Reestablishes adequate function of the tooth.
  • Helps prevent damage to the nerve of the tooth.
  • Helps prevent tooth loss.
  • Makes it easier to clean your teeth.
  • Lowers the bacterial count in your mouth.
  • Helps you achieve and maintain fresh breath.

When is the best time to obtain dental fillings?

The best time to have dental fillings placed is as soon as tooth damage or tooth decay is discovered. Dental caries, also known as dental cavities, advance over time. The presence of sugars and starches in the foods we eat combined with our normal oral bacteria create acids and promote the decay of tooth structure.

The earlier diseased tooth structure is removed and replaced by dental filling material the better because:

  • A greater amount of healthy tooth structure is retained.
  • The teeth are stronger because there is a greater ratio of strong tooth structure to dental filling material.
  • Treatment is less complex and therefore of shorter duration.
  • Treatment in early stages is often less expensive.
  • Treatment is usually accomplished with more comfort with less post-operative sensitivity.

One of the primary benefits of regular, periodic oral examinations is early discovery of tooth damage and decay to enable timely restoration of teeth.

What kinds of dental fillings are there?

There are six classifications of dental fillings, differentiated by the number of surfaces the dental filling restores. The different dental filling classifications involve the following surfaces of the teeth:

Class I – the chewing surface of back teeth*
Class II – the chewing surface and one or more sides of a back tooth.
Class III – the side along with the front and/or back of a front tooth.*
Class IV – the biting edge of a front tooth.
Class V – the tongue or cheek side of a back tooth, just above the gumline.
Class VI – the tip of a cusp of a back tooth.

* Front teeth are considered to be those between the canine teeth in the front of the mouth. Back teeth are considered to be those behind the canine teeth in the back of the mouth

How are dental fillings placed?

After reviewing your medical history to determine whether there are any contraindications to dental treatment a dentist (or possibly a dental hygienist) will usually numb the area of the mouth where the dental filling will be placed by administering an anesthetic. The type of anesthetic will be chosen according to the level and length of anesthesia necessary for the procedure. Once you are numb the damaged tooth structure will be removed by a dentist until only healthy tooth structure remains. Preparation of the tooth beyond removal of decay and fragile fragments depends upon the type of dental filling to being placed. Once the dental filling has been placed inside the tooth, it will be properly shaped, smoothed and polished. Your bite will be adjusted until closing feels natural and your dentist will make sure that you can floss between your teeth. He or she will also check to make sure that food will not be trapped between your teeth and your new dental filling. Once the anesthetic administered to you wears off you should be left with a normal feeling bite and an improved ability to chew.

Learn more about dental amalgam fillings and tooth colored fillings >


< More interesting dental facts

Oakland dentist, Dr. Sharon Albright Oakland / Berkeley, CA Also serving Alameda, San Leandro and the surrounding East Bay, CA areas.