How Does A Cavity Filling Work?

Dr. Reza Written by Dr. Reza Khazaie

How does a cavity filling work? - Willow Pass Dental Care - Concord, CA

Your dentist says you have a cavity that needs a filling. What does it mean to get a cavity filling?

What is a cavity filling?

How does a cavity filling work? - Willow Pass Dental Care - Concord, CA

Having a cavity is not a day at the park. Not only is a cavity painful, but it can also affect your daily life, from eating and chewing to speaking correctly. That’s where cavity fillings come into play. A cavity filling procedure is the most common way to resolve dental decay that has penetrated the dental enamel of a tooth.

As the name suggests, a cavity filling procedure involves filling the cavity with an inert, dental-grade material to prevent further damage and restore a tooth’s structural capability.

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How does a cavity filling work?

Cavity fillings fill in the space created by a dentist’s drill after removing areas of dental decay.

Dental fillings prevent the cavity, or space in the tooth, from trapping further food debris and bacteria, thereby preventing future tooth decay and tooth pain.

The cavity filling process

The cavity filling process has significantly advanced in the last decade.

However, the idea of filling a hole or cavity in a patient’s tooth to prevent tooth decay and infection remains the same.

Here’s what the latest technological advances in the cavity filling procedure entail.

  1. Administer painless needle-free anesthetics
  2. Remove decay
  3. Place filling material
  4. Refine shape
How does a cavity filling work? - Willow Pass Dental Care - Concord, CA

The latest advances in painless laser dentistry

The dentist begins by numbing the area around the tooth with local anesthetics. This is typically achieved with an injection of novocaine or lidocaine.

New technological developments administering needle-free or electronic anesthesia make needles a thing of the past and nearly pain-free. No longer does a patient have to fear getting shots on their next trip to a dentist who is using the latest technology.

Dental lasers
How does a cavity filling work? - Willow Pass Dental Care - Concord, CA

The dentist will then remove parts of the tooth affected by dental decay. This is achieved with the use of a dental laser.

Laser dentistry is the latest advancement in dental technology. It treats a wide range of dental and cosmetic problems, including cavities, gum disease, and even teeth whitening.

The dental lasers we use in our practice are an alternative to the conventional hand-held scalpel, drills, or other tools.

Dental lasers lasers have been approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration and are safe for both adults and children. The lasers we use also reduce the need for needle injections for anesthesia as well as allowing more dentistry treatment to be performed in less time and fewer visits.

Dental filling
How does a cavity filling work? - Willow Pass Dental Care - Concord, CA

Once the decayed matter has been thoroughly expunged, it’s time to place the dental filling material into the cleaned-out cavity.

For cavities located on chewing surfaces in less visible areas of your mouth, you can select traditional “silver-colored” amalgam material or the “composite” resin tinted to match your tooth color.

Amalgam filling
How does a cavity filling work? - Willow Pass Dental Care - Concord, CA

In the case of amalgam, the filling material is mixed chairside and molded into the cavity.

The amalgam filling is the strongest, most durable, and least expensive option for tooth filling.

Composite resin filling
How does a cavity filling work? - Willow Pass Dental Care - Concord, CA

Composite resin fillings require an added step in which the dentist must first etch a patient’s tooth. This is done to allow the composite material to fasten to dental surfaces mechanically. The composite resin provides during fillings for small to medium-sized cavities. It costs a little more than the amalgam filling and is considered by some patients to be more attractive in both hidden and visible areas.

Glass or resin “ionomers” mimic the natural color of the tooth and are primarily used for filling cavities along the root or gum line.

Whether you choose amalgam or composite resin, once the material is firmly in place and hardened, it’s time to polish and buff it into shape. The dentist will attempt to shape the filling material to match the original form of the tooth as much as possible. They will also check to see how the filling makes contact with your other teeth.

Once this refinement process is complete, your tooth filling is good to go!

How long does a cavity filling procedure take?

The duration of a cavity filling procedure can vary, but typically it takes between 30 minutes to an hour. Here are some more details:

  • Simple fillings (such as a single surface filling). These usually take 30-45 minutes to complete.
  • More complex fillings, such as a multi-surface filling or a deeper cavity may take about 45 to 60 minutes to complete the procedure.

The specific time will depend on factors such as:

  • The size and location of the cavity
  • Whether the tooth needs to by numbed with local anesthesia
  • How many fillings are being done at the same time
  • The skills and experience of the dentist
  • Whether any additional procedures are needed, such as removing tooth decay or shaping the tooth

In general, a single, straightforward cavity filling is one of the quicker dental procedures. Cavity fillings or multiple fillings that are more involved in the same visit can take closer to an hour. The <a href=”” data-type=”page” data-id=”27″ target=”_blank” rel=”noreferrer noopener”>dentist</a> will be able to provide a more accurate estimate based on the specific work needed. But most simple cavity fillings can be completed within 30-45 minutes.

What types of dental fillings can I get to fill a cavity?

  1. Amalgam (silver) fillings: These are made from a mix of metals, including silver, tin, copper, and mercury. They are known for their durability and last 10 to 15 years. They are considered an affordable option, but they have a metallic appearance.
  2. Composite (tooth-colored) fillings: These are made from a plastic and glass mixture matched to the color of your natural teeth. They provide a more aesthetic, natural-looking restoration. They are known to last about 5 to 7 years before needing replacement. However, they can be more expensive than amalgam fillings.
  3. Glass ionomer fillings: These dental fillings are made from a mixture of glass and acrylic materials. They release fluoride to help prevent future cavities and are a good option for small cavities in children’s baby teeth. They typically last 3 to 5 years.
  4. Gold fillings: These fillings are made from a mix of gold, copper, and other metals. They are highly durable and last 15 to 30 years. These are the most expensive type of filling material and have a distinctive gold appearance.
  5. Ceramic / porcelain fillings: These are made from dental-grade porcelain or ceramic. They provide a very natural, tooth-colored appearance. These are more expensive than composite fillings and typically last 10 to 15 years.

Your dentist will recommend the best filling material based on the location and size of the cavity, your budget, your preferences, and your oral health needs. They can help you weigh the pros and cons of each option.

Does a cavity filling procedure hurt?

The cavity filling procedure itself is generally not very painful, though there can be some discomfort involved. Here’s a more detailed overview of what to expect:

  • Numbing the area: The first step is for the dentist to numb the area around the cavity with a local anesthetic. This is usually done by giving a small injection in the gum near the tooth. This may cause a brief pinching or stinging sensation, but it ensures you won’t feel pain during the procedure.
  • Removing the decay: The dentist will use a dental drill to remove the decayed portion of the tooth. This part of the process does not typically cause pain since the area is numbed. You may feel some vibration or pressure but no sharp pain.
  • Placing the filling: Once the decay is removed, the dentist will clean the area and then apply the filling material. This part of the procedure is usually painless since the area is still numb.
  • After the anesthesia wears off: After the procedure, the numbing sensation will gradually wear off over the next few hours. During this time, you may experience some mild discomfort or sensitivity, especially when eating or drinking. This is normal and should subside within a day or two.

Overall, the dental team takes steps to ensure the procedure is as comfortable as possible. Let your dentist know if you experience any pain or discomfort so they can address it. With proper anesthesia and a skilled dentist, most people report that a cavity filling is not very painful.

Is dental pain normal after a cavity filling procedure?

Yes, it is quite normal to experience some degree of dental pain or discomfort after getting a cavity filling. There are a few reasons for this:

  • Sensitivity: The tooth often feels sensitive to hot, cold, or pressure for a few days following the procedure. The sensitivity is due to the tooth being drilled and the filling material being placed. The sensitivity should gradually decrease as the tooth adjusts to the new filling.
  • Soreness: The gum around the filled tooth may feel sore or tender for a few days. This is from the tooth being worked on and the anesthesia application. Gum soreness typically resolves rather quickly on its own.
  • Bite misalignment: If the filling is slightly higher than the rest of the tooth, it can cause an uneven bite. This often leads to pain when biting down until the filling is adjusted by the dentist. This is something rather simple to correct.
  • Inflammation: The tooth pulp (nerve) may become inflamed from the dental filling procedure. This can cause lingering pain that often can last for up to two weeks. Anti-inflammatory medication can help relieve this type of pain.

The good news is that any post-procedure pain is usually mild and temporary. It’s a normal part of the healing process. If the pain is severe or persists for more than a couple of weeks, that may indicate a problem, and you should contact your dentist right away. But some degree of discomfort is to be expected after getting a filling.

How much does a cavity filling cost?

The cost of a dental filling can vary quite a bit depending on several factors:

  1. The type of filling material: Amalgam (silver) fillings are generally the least expensive, ranging from $60 to $200 per filling. Composite (tooth-colored) fillings typically cost $90 to $250 per filling. Gold and porcelain fillings are the most expensive, often costing $350 to $4,500 per filling.
  2. The location of the tooth: Fillings in front teeth are usually less expensive than molars in the back of the mouth. Back teeth require more complex work, which increases the cost.
  3. Size of the tooth filling: Larger tooth fillings to repair more extensive decay will cost more than small, simple tooth fillings.
  4. Dental insurance coverage: Many dental insurance plans cover a portion of the cost, such as 80 percent for basic tooth fillings.

The total cost can vary significantly based on your individual dental needs.

It’s best to get a cost estimate from your dentist, as they can provide a personalized quote based on your situation. You can also check with your dental insurance provider to understand your coverage and expected out-of-pocket expenses.