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Tooth Fillings and Restorations

Nearly 25 percent of Americans have an untreated cavity, and if left untreated, those cavities can lead to tooth-threatening problems. If caught early and treated promptly, though, the progression of cavities can be slowed or stopped altogether.

Fillings and restorations are the frontline option for addressing cavities. Fillings can be placed during a single dental visit. They’re among the least expensive restoration procedures available and they have minimal impact on function or appearance of teeth.

If it’s time for a filling, this guide will prepare you for the process and ensure you know what your options are for treatment.

When are Tooth Fillings and Restorations Recommended?

If any of the following signs are present, it may be time for a filling:

  • Toothache
  • Pain when biting
  • Sensitivity to hot or cold foods
  • Visible holes in tooth surfaces
  • Discoloration

These signs may suggest the presence of a cavity, and you don’t want to ignore the symptoms because cavities are extremely common and easy to treat when caught early. The average U.S. adult has three fillings, so they’re extremely common.

If extensive damage is present, such as chips, cracks or severe decay, fillings may not be enough to treat the problem. In this case, additional restoration work will likely be needed.

How are Tooth Fillings and Restorations Placed in the Mouth?

The vast majority of dental fillings are easy and pain-free to place. Even if you’re getting multiple fillings at once, they can usually be placed during a single dentist appointment. Specifically, this is what the filling process looks like:

  • Decay removal – First, the dentist will use one or more burrs to remove the compromised parts of the tooth. Dental instruments are designed to do this with precision, so only the decayed parts are removed.
  • Cavity cleaning – The now decay-free tooth is washed clean with a solution that kills off any bacteria and washes away debris.
  • Liner placement (if near the root) – If the decay has reached the root, the dentist will first put in a liner. This will minimize pressure on the root and prevent pain and inflammation.
  • Filling material placement – The filling material is then deposited into the tooth. The dentist will ensure the filling material is evenly spread on the damaged parts of the tooth.
  • Curing – Once the filling is in place, a UV light is used to cure it. This UV light speeds up the chemical processes that solidify the filling, so it stays in place and provides a tight barrier.

Amalgam or Composite Fillings: Which is the Best Choice?

Patients have a few material options when selecting fillings, but for most patients the choice will come down to amalgam or composite. Here’s a look at each and the benefits they offer to patients:


Amalgam fillings are made with a mix of silver, tin, mercury, and zinc. While they’re durable and strong and were once considered a long-term filling option, more dentists are avoiding amalgam fillings in modern dentistry.


Composite fillings are made of color-matched resins that are placed in the tooth and cured. Once cured, they blend in with the natural tooth perfectly and provide superior aesthetics to amalgam.

Dental Restorations May Also Include Crowns, Inlays, Onlays and More

According to the American Dental Association, U.S. dentists perform more than 175 million tooth filling procedures every year. They’re one of the most common dental treatments, in other words. However, they aren’t appropriate for teeth that have sustained significant damage. If the following are present, then a filling won’t be enough:

  • Severe decay or gum disease
  • Cracks
  • Chips
  • Missing teeth

Additional restoration procedures will be needed to handle these issues. They may include:

  • Crowns – Crowns are installed over a decayed or damaged tooth, and to accommodate this cap, the existing tooth is shaped to fit. Crowns are recommended for broken teeth or for teeth with large cavities.
  • Onlays and inlays – Onlays and inlays are used to replace parts of a tooth – not the entire tooth itself. They’re recommended for cavities that are too big for a filling but aren’t large enough to merit a crown. Onlays replace part of the tooth’s cusp while inlays replace parts of the tooth between the cusps. In both cases, the replacement piece is shaped to fit the gap left behind by decay removal.
  • Bridges – Dental bridges are used to replace one or several teeth, and you can think of them like multiple crowns. Bridges can be fitted over natural teeth like crowns, and they must be shaped prior to bridge placement. If a whole row of teeth have been damaged, a bridge can provide a total restoration.
  • Implants – Implants are the ultimate tooth replacement option, and provide the longest, most natural fit. Implants consist of a titanium post that’s installed in the jaw and acts like a root. A crown is installed on top of this root, and the result is a like-natural look and feel.

It may not be obvious which restoration procedure is right for you, but your dentist can provide the answer. They’ll consider your teeth’s condition, your overall health, your comfort level with dentistry and your budget, among other factors.

Regular Dentist Visits Will Ensure Fillings and Restorations are in Good Shape

Once you have a filling or restoration, the best way to take care of it is to continue with regular dentist appointments. These visits allow the dentist to track the condition of your filling and verify that it is still in place. It’s important to maintain good oral hygiene after getting a filling, as this will keep it in place and prevent further tooth decay.

Dental Fillings and Restorations Provide Long-Term Protection for your Teeth

Cavities happen. Chances are, you’ll have at least one during your lifetime. Thankfully fillings can be placed quickly. Filling a cavity immediately means avoiding more expensive procedures and restorations in the future.

Meyerland Family Dentistry is specialized in many restoration procedures. If you think your teeth are in need of dental fillings or restorations, reach out and make an appointment today.

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