A filling is one of the most common dental procedures. It’s basically a repair job to fix the damage done by tooth decay. It’s typically a painless procedure that takes about an hour.
Cavities are incredibly common nowadays. According to the World Health Organization, untreated cavities are the most common dental condition worldwide, experienced by approximately
A filling helps prevent further decay and allows your tooth to function as expected.
Keep reading to learn more about what to expect if you need a filling, the materials most commonly used, and how long it takes for a filling to set and heal.
In general, a filling takes an hour or less. A simple filling may take as few as 20 minutes. Many dental offices now have the technology to make onlays and inlays in one appointment, though a larger filling or multiple fillings can take longer.
Plus, depending on the materials used for the filling, it could take longer or require a second visit. For instance:
- Composite resin material that’s layered into your tooth takes more time, but it’s completed in one visit.
- Some composite fillings may be made from an impression. This requires a second visit to bond the filling.
- Gold or porcelain fillings, also called inlays or onlays, can only be done in one sitting if your dental office has the require equipment. Otherwise, it takes multiple visits. In the first visit, the dentist will remove the cavity and make impression of your tooth. They’ll send the impression to a lab to create the filling. At the next visit, they’ll bond the filling to your tooth.
Replacing an older filling generally takes about the same amount of time as the original filling. It may take slightly longer if the old filling material has to be drilled out. A healthcare professional will clean out the cavity and old filling material, then insert new filling material.
How long does a filling take on a child?
Cavities in children are quite common, even with good dental hygiene and a nutritious diet. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),
Fillings for children take about the same amount of time as they do for adults, with some additional considerations.
Children, especially children under age 5, may require anesthesia if they cannot sit still for 20 minutes. This can add additional time to the beginning of the appointment, as well as some recovery time before you can take your child home. Nitrous oxide (sometimes called laughing gas) can also be used safely to help children stay still during the filling process.
You should speak with your dentist about any accommodations your child might need. A good pediatric dentist will be able to give you an estimate of exactly how long your child’s filling will take.
Your dentist will discuss the various materials that can be used to fill your cavity. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), some of the most widely used options include the following materials:
- Silver-color fillings. These are metal amalgams — a combination of mercury, silver, tin, and copper. This material is more durable than tooth-color fillings and generally more affordable than other materials, per the ADA. Some people may have concerns about the mercury content, but the ADA has found no clinical evidence that amalgam fillings are harmful. That said, these types of fillings are being phased out.
- White tooth-color fillings (composites). These are a mix of glass or quartz particles and acrylic resin. This material is durable and costs a little more than metal amalgams, according to the ADA.
- Gold fillings. This mix of gold, copper, and other metals is very durable but more expensive. They’re also not natural looking. Gold fillings are usually made in a lab after the dentist takes an impression of your tooth.
- Glass ionomer fillings. These are also tooth-colored fillings, but they are not as strong as composites. They’re made of acrylic and a type of glass that contains fluoride, which can help prevent cavities. They’re often used for children’s teeth and are more expensive than amalgams.
- Porcelain fillings. These are about as expensive as gold fillings but look more natural. They’re made in a lab after the dentist takes an impression of your tooth.
According to Kenneth Rothschild, DDS, who has 40 years of experience as a general dentist, composite plastics have been used with more success over the last few decades because of their greater strength, better color varieties, and superior expected longevity.
“Composites may be used not only for fillings placed in more aesthetically sensitive front areas but also on posterior teeth, such as molars and bicuspids,” he explained.
Traditional health insurance does not typically cover fillings. If you don’t have supplementary dental insurance, you’ll need to pay out of pocket for fillings. This can cost anywhere from $100 to $500, depending on the materials being used and how many surfaces of your tooth need to be restored.
If you have dental insurance, you may have a copay for fillings based on a percentage of the total cost. You may also have a flat copay for fillings. Some dental insurance even covers the cost completely.
If you have original Medicare (parts A and B), it covers only dental work that is part of a covered procedure and some dental exams, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Fillings are not included in traditional Medicare coverage.
You can purchase a Medicare supplement plan to bring down the cost of fillings. Some supplement plans provide complete dental coverage so that your out-of-pocket cost is zero.
Fillings are generally a simple procedure:
- To start, your dentist will examine your mouth and use dental instruments to check the cavity. They may take an X-ray of the tooth or teeth to see the extent of tooth decay.
- They’ll give you a local anesthetic to numb the tooth area. This will help prevent any pain. You may not need an anesthetic if the filling is just on the tooth surface.
- Once the area is numb, your dentist will most likely use a dental drill to drill through the tooth enamel to remove the decay. Some dentists may use a laser or an
air abrasion tool, but these techniques are less common.
- Next, your dentist will sterilize and prepare the area for the filling, then fill the hole. Some types of fillings are hardened, or cured, with a blue wavelength light.
- Finally, your dentist will polish the tooth and check to make sure that your bite is correct.
Once the numbing has worn off, your tooth may feel a little sore or sensitive after the filling, but you shouldn’t have any pain. You should avoid very hot or very cold foods and drinks for 1 or 2 days. For the most part, though, you can eat as you usually do.
How long your filling will take to set depends on the material your dentist uses. According to Rothschild:
- Amalgam fillings set weakly in 1 hour and are at full strength in about 24 hours. With this type of filling, it’s best to avoid eating hard foods until the filling has completely set.
- Composite fillings and glass ionomer fillings are usually light cured. They are set in 1- to 2-millimeter-thick layers, taking about 2 to 20 seconds per layer.
- Ceramic fillings set immediately, with the aid of the dentist’s blue wavelength light. Rothschild explained: “It’s already milled or fired, and the bonding adhesive that holds it in place is cured in seconds.”
If the length of the procedure is a concern, let your dentist know so they can recommend the best type of filling for you.
Most fillings heal quickly without complications. After the anesthetic wears off, your tooth may feel a little sensitive, but this usually goes away in a day or so.
“Metal fillings, like amalgam and gold, occasionally have a period of post-op cold sensitivity for a few days or even weeks,” Rothschild said. “This is less likely but still possible with a bonded composite or glass ionomer filling.”
You can reduce tooth sensitivity by:
- chewing on the other side of your mouth for a couple of days
- brushing and flossing more gently than usual around the filling
- avoiding hot or cold food or drinks
- avoiding acidic foods
- using a desensitizing toothpaste
- taking a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug
Let your dentist know if your bite feels off or if you have any long lasting pain or sensitivity. Your dentist may need to adjust the filling surface to improve your bite.
How long does a filling take to stop hurting?
After your filling is complete, it might take a little while for any residual pain to subside. You may feel a dull pain at the site of your dental work for several hours afterward you leave the dentist.
It can also take between 2 to 7 hours for any anesthesia to wear off completely. While the anesthesia wears off, you may feel an uncomfortable “pins and needles” feeling as your nerves regain their full function.
You can take an over-the-counter pain reliever (such as ibuprofen) to counteract the pain if you are extremely uncomfortable. You may also apply gentle heat or an ice pack outside your jaw to bring down swelling and soothe the pain.
Avoiding highly acidic foods, cold foods, and sticky foods for an evening after your cavity will ensure the cavity seals fully and help you avoid ongoing pain and complications.
How long your filling lasts depends, in part, on your dental hygiene. Diligent dental care can extend the life of your filling and prevent a new cavity from forming on your tooth. The lifetime of a filling can also vary depending on the materials used.
Remember that everyone’s teeth and lifestyle are different, so these timeframes can vary from person to person. In general:
- amalgam fillings last 5 to 25 years
- composite fillings last 5 to 15 years
- gold fillings last 15 to 20 years
If you see your dentist for regular checkups, they’ll find cavities early. The sooner a cavity is treated, the better the outcome for your tooth and the less invasive the treatment is likely to be. So it’s a good investment to get regular dental checkups.
Usually, there are some warning signs of a cavity, such as:
- teeth sensitivity to hot or cold foods and drinks
- sensitivity to sugary foods and drinks
- ongoing ache in a tooth
- a hole or pit in a tooth
- a tooth stain, either white or a darker color
If you suspect you may have a cavity, make sure to visit your dentist. They can determine whether you need a filling or other treatment.
Dental fillings are very common and typically aren’t painful. The procedure usually takes about an hour for a standard, uncomplicated filling.
Ask your dentist about the pros and cons of possible filling materials for your tooth. They can also let you know the best way to care for your filling.
If you have dental insurance, check to find out what types of fillings are covered. Your insurance may not cover more expensive materials.
With diligent dental hygiene, you can expect your fillings to last for many years.