What Is a Filling?

Woman in the dentist's chair during a dental procedure.

From an early age, we are taught the importance of dental hygiene, which involves taking care of our teeth by properly flossing and brushing them on a daily basis. Good oral hygiene, brushing and flossing can help you avoid cavities and tooth decay.1 Cavities are permanently damaged areas in the hard surfaces of teeth that are caused by a combination of factors: bacteria, sugary foods/drinks, and bad dental hygiene habits. Complications of cavities include: pain, tooth abscess, swelling/pus, chewing problems, etc.1 In order to prevent further damage and decay of the tooth, dentists may recommend getting a filling. In this article, we’ll discuss in greater detail what a filling is, the different types of fillings you can get, and what you should expect after filling a tooth.

Uses of Tooth Fillings

Dental fillings are combinations of metals, plastics, glass and other materials used to repair teeth.2 Dental fillings are used in cases of tooth decay, injured or broken teeth, or to restore eroded/worn out teeth.2 Before a filling, the dentist numbs the area around the affected tooth.2 After preparation of the tooth (i.e. removal of the decay), the filling material is inserted into the affected area and the dentist will finish and polish it.2

Types of Fillings

Before the procedure for your tooth filling, your dentist may go over the various types of fillings you can get. There’s a wide variety of fillings you can get, including:

  1. Tooth- or White-Colored FillingsThis type of filling, called composite, is mixture of powdered glass and resin and looks much like the original tooth material.4 It is often cured in layers with exposure to blue light.4
  2. Silver Fillings – Also known as amalgam, this filling is made from a combination of metals that can include silver, tin, mercury, and copper and are durable and more affordable than composites.3
  3. Glass Ionomer Fillings – This filling is usually better suited for smaller fillings and is usually a self-curing -mixture of organic acids and may include acrylic resins.4

Other types of fillings include materials like porcelain and gold alloys, which are a mixture of gold, copper, and other metals, are can be used for inlays and partial crowns.2 It’s important to discuss all of your options with your dentist, as they can provide expert knowledge on which type of tooth filling will fit your needs.

After a Tooth Filling

Once your dentist has finished filling your tooth, it is important that they spend some time explaining any and all possible side effects. For the initial days after a filling, there may temporarily be tingling or pain in the affected tooth while chewing hot or cold food.2 Patients should be advised to follow good oral care practices — brushing teeth daily, dental cleaner (floss) daily, and even rinses to kill any remaining bacteria.1

Taking care of your teeth is just as vital to your health as exercise or a balanced diet, as teeth that haven’t been properly cared for can lead to pain, cavities, and even tooth loss. Now that you have more information about what a filling is, it is important to keep in mind that if you’re feeling any discomfort that a filling might be your best option for treatment based on your dentist’s recommendations. For additional resources on oral health, check out our articles on how to improve gum health, the importance of flossing, and more.


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  1. Cavities/Tooth Decay. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cavities/symptoms-causes/syc-20352892#:~:text=Cavities%20are%20permanently%20damaged%20areas,not%20cleaning%20your%20teeth%20well. Accessed on 9/10/2020. Referenced text is enclosed in red box in source PDF.
  2. Dental Fillings. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/17002-dental-fillings. Accessed 8/18/2021. Referenced text is indicated in source PDF.
  3. Dental Filling Options. American Dental Association: Mouth Healthy. https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/d/dental-filling-options. Accessed 8/18/2021. Referenced text is indicated in source PDF.
  4. Treatment Options for Dental Caries. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/dental-amalgam-fillings/treatment-options-dental-caries. Accessed 8/18/2021. Referenced text is indicated in source PDF.