Dental fillings can be made from several different kinds of materials, and the type of filling you have goes a long way in determining how long it should last.
Fillings usually don’t last a lifetime, so getting regular dental checkups can help you determine when a filling might have to be replaced.
Whether you need a new or replacement filling, it’s important to consider all your options when it comes to materials or alternatives to fillings, as well as to identify tooth decay symptoms that indicate a filling may be necessary.
Read on to learn how long fillings typically last based on material, when to know they need to be replaced, and what steps you can take to help make your fillings last longer.
Typically, fillings last around 10 years. Many restorations (the clinical term for dental fillings) last much longer.
In addition to the materials used, other factors affecting the life span of a filling include:
- your eating habits
- dental hygiene
- trauma to your tooth
- decay around the filling
- grinding your teeth while you sleep
Though several factors affect the durability of fillings, the materials used can give you a good idea of how long a particular filling should last.
|Type of filling||Average duration|
|glass ionomer||5 years|
There are four main types of fillings, but two — amalgam and composite fillings — are the most common.
These are also known as silver fillings, though they contain more metals than just silver. They’re an amalgam or mixture of silver, copper, and tin alloy particles as well as elemental mercury.
Dentists have been using amalgam fillings for more than 150 years. They remain the least expensive type of filling you can have and may also be the most durable.
With mercury amalgam fillings, there may be a risk of toxicity. You
- are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or breastfeeding
- are under 6 years of age
- have a neurological condition or kidney problems
- have an allergy to mercury
Composite fillings are popular with patients because the color can often be matched to the color of the surrounding teeth. They’re made from a combination of acrylic and ceramic resins.
Composite fillings chemically bond with the surrounding tooth with an adhesive. But they last on average about 7 years, according to a
The materials used for composite fillings are also used to repair chipped teeth and fill in small gaps between teeth.
As you might imagine, gold fillings are much more expensive than amalgam or composite restorations.
But they’re also more durable. Gold fillings last an average of 20 years or more, according to the American Dental Association (ADA).
Ceramic and glass ionomer fillings
Ceramic fillings are made with a type of porcelain and may last 15 years or longer.
However, they’re even more expensive than gold restorations and are among the least common types of fillings available. Ceramic fillings need to be made by a dental lab or milling machine and glued into the tooth.
Glass ionomer fillings are made with a kind of glass and acrylic and can be placed directly in the tooth. They’re weaker than other fillings and are typically used for small cavities near the gumline, not on chewing surfaces. They typically last about 5 years.
You may be fortunate enough to never need a replacement filling.
But odds are that, over the course of your life, a filling may crack or wear down to a point where it’s no longer protecting the tooth from further decay. And sometimes, a filling just falls out and needs to be replaced.
You may not notice when a filling first has problems, but your dentist should be able to spot trouble early on during a routine checkup.
Your dentist uses a tool called an explorer to probe around the edges of the filling to make sure it’s still sealed to the tooth or see if there are spots where bacteria can enter the tooth and cause further decay.
Dental X-rays can also reveal decay under the filling or anywhere nearby. If it appears the filling is no longer keeping out bacteria and supporting the tooth, it’s time for a replacement.
A sore or sensitive tooth may also indicate it’s time to replace a filling. But you don’t want to wait until then to have your fillings routinely examined.
Eating sugary foods is one of the biggest predictors of how long your fillings will last. Sugar can make it easier for biofilms to grow on your fillings and cause new cavities underneath existing fillings as well as on previously healthy teeth.
Biting down on hard candy, nuts, ice, and other hard foods can increase the wear and tear on your fillings and your teeth.
You should also avoid gum, beef jerky, gummy candy or vitamins, and other sticky foods that may pull on your fillings.
Also, if you have composite fillings, beverages like tea and coffee can stain them just as they can natural teeth.
While the best alternative to traditional fillings is to prevent tooth decay and the need for a filling in the first place, other developments in recent years have given dentists some new options.
Silver diamine fluoride (SDF)
One product, known as SDF, is an antibiotic liquid that is applied to a tooth that already has some decay or sensitivity.
SDF can help prevent further decay. But if the tooth has already experienced considerable decay, a traditional filling may be necessary.
Researchers at Oregon Health & Science University have developed a new composite filling containing
The researchers also developed a dental adhesive (a glue to hold the composite filling in) that contains a polymer called methacrylamides.
Early research shows that methacrylamides are 30 percent stronger than current materials after 6 months of use. Methacrylamides may also be more resistant to bacteria and enzymes in the mouth.
Combined, thiourethane and methacrylamides may have the potential to make your fillings last longer.
Keep in mind that these types of filling aren’t available yet in dental offices. More testing of these materials needs to be performed before they’re available in dental offices.
Root canal therapy
In situations where a filling won’t be enough to save a tooth, your dentist may recommend root canal therapy.
This is done by removing the inside of the tooth root and putting a special rubbery filler into the tooth to preserve it.
Crowns or veneers
A crown or veneers may also be appropriate.
A dentist can remove part of the tooth that’s decaying and cover it with a crown that looks like a tooth but is made of metal, porcelain, or resin.
If you have good dental health, seeing your dentist once or twice a year may be sufficient.
But if you have dental issues like periodontitis (gum disease), you may need regular cleanings and checkups a few times a year.
The ADA recommends seeing your dentist if you have any of the following signs or other complaints related to your teeth and gums:
- swollen or bleeding gums when you brush or floss
- teeth sensitivity to heat and cold
- teeth, gum, or jaw pain
- difficulty chewing
- loose tooth
- persistent bad breath
- sores or spots in your mouth
The ADA also recommends seeing a dentist regularly if you have crowns, dental implants, dentures, and fillings.
Once you get a filling, the clock starts on how long it’ll last. It may last a lifetime or need to be replaced in a few years.
On average, a filling should last a decade or more. Some dentists offer warranties around 1 to 2 years on new fillings, provided that you have checkups every 6 months and take good care of your teeth at home.
Brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, flossing daily, and eating a balanced diet can also help extend the life of your fillings.
Talk with your dentist about more strategies to extend the life of your fillings. If one needs to be replaced, consider all the options before making a decision.