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At some point in life, you may get a cavity or have a cracked tooth.  When that happens, the dentist is going to fill the gaps with a dental filling material. Known as fillings, these repairs help strengthen the teeth and prevent further damage.

What kinds of filling materials are available?

If you need a filling, the dentist may give you several options on filling materials. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages:

Metal FillingsA cast gold filling can last 15 years or more. They do not corrode and can withstand the wear and tear of chewing. Gold fillings are up to 10 times more expensive than silver amalgam filling materials. They also require at least two visits to the dentist. People have mixed feelings about the gold color, with some loving it and others hating it.

A silver (amalgam) filling also last 15 years or more and have the durability to withstand chewing forces. They are far less expensive than gold filling material. The amalgam does not match the color of the teeth and it can discolor the surrounding tooth enamel.

Tooth Colored FillingsTooth-colored composite filling material is becoming more popular because it blends better into the natural color of the mouth’s teeth. These composites bond with the tooth structure, strengthening the entire tooth. Composite fillings do not last as long as amalgam fillings, with an expected life of only 5 to 10 years.

Other options for filling materials include ceramic and glass ionomer.

The exact filling material the dentist recommends depends on several factors, including the location and extent of tooth damage, what your insurance will cover, and any other dental work required.

A temporary filling is sometimes used when multiple dental visits are required, such as for installing cast gold fillings. The dentist may also use a temporary filling after a root canal or when an emergency dental procedure is performed. That filling will last up to a month or so before breaking down.

What steps does the dentist take to create a filling?

Most dentists apply a local anesthetic before creating a filling. Once the area is numb, the dentist will clear out any decay using a drill or laser. Once the decay is clear, he will clean and disinfect the space. Inserting the filling material comes next. Once the filling material solidifies, the dentist will finish and polish it.

Dental insurance will cover some of the costs for fillings. Going with a more expensive filling material can cost you more out of pocket, however.

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