Filling cavities is one of your family dentist’s essential roles. In addition to preventive care, catching and treating cavities are crucial to keeping your teeth healthy. As tooth-colored composite takes the lead over old-school silver amalgam, many patients opt for the natural look of plastic materials over the durability of metal fillings. But how long do dental fillings last? And how do you know when it’s time to replace them?
What Is A Dental Filling?
When you have a cavity, your dentist removes the decay, cleans the area, and fills the space with a resin or metal material. Your filling protects the interior of your tooth and prevents decay from spreading.
What Are the Most Popular Filling Materials?
Tooth-colored composite resin, made primarily of plastic material, is now the most common filling material in the US. Around 44 percent of fillings are composite, and 40 percent are metal amalgam, according to a 2021 study. Other materials include gold, porcelain, and glass ionomer (often used in children). Dental insurance usually covers the total amount for an amalgam filling and part or all of a composite filling. Patients often pay out of pocket if they choose other materials.
- Composite resin fillings offer the most natural appearance. They often let your dentist keep more of your tooth intact than metal fillings.
- Silver amalgam fillings are the least expensive option and last longer than composite. Amalgam fillings contain small amounts of mercury but are considered safe by the ADA and FDA for most patients over age 6. However, they can cause problems for a small percentage of patients with a mercury allergy.
- Porcelain fillings are durable and attractive but more expensive than amalgam or composite.
- Gold fillings are the most expensive and longest-lasting. Only a tiny percentage of patients opt for gold fillings.
How Long Do Dental Fillings Last?
Composite resin fillings usually last 7 to 10 years.
Silver amalgam fillings can last up to 15 years.
Gold fillings are the most expensive but can last up to 30 years.
Glass ionomer fillings are less durable than composite material and only last a few years. However, they’re ideal for children whose teeth are still developing and release fluoride to prevent further decay.
How Do I Know It’s Time to Replace A Filling?
Pressure from chewing and grinding can wear down your fillings. When your filling deteriorates, bacteria can get in, causing further decay. Some signs it’s time to replace your filling include:
- Your filling becomes loose or falls out.
- You experience an injury to the face that damages your dental work.
- Your composite filling changes color, turning yellow or becoming darker.
- You experience pain or sensitivity at the filling site.
- Your dentist checks the status of your existing fillings and other restorations at each checkup and will let you know if your fillings are starting to show signs of wear.
What Happens If I Don’t Get A Cavity Filled?
Filling a cavity is generally a straightforward procedure involving minimal discomfort. Catching tooth decay early means a cheaper, less invasive procedure later. If you delay filling a cavity, bacteria can spread to the tooth pulp or root, causing an infection or dead tooth. You may need a root canal or extraction down the road, which are more expensive, painful, and time-consuming. Seeing your family dentist regularly for preventive care helps you:
- Prevent cavities with cleanings and oral hygiene reminders.
- Detect and address tooth decay early.
- Check fillings and other restorations for signs of deterioration.
At Greenhill Family Dental Care, prevention and early treatment of tooth decay are top priorities. If you need a filling, we’ll help you choose the best option based on your insurance coverage, dental needs and aesthetic goals. Treating cavities early can avoid costly and painful procedures down the road.