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The cost of a filling is typically determined by several factors and choices that you and your dentist must make. Some of those common factors include the size and location of the cavity—larger cavities cost more to fill than smaller ones; fillings on the front teeth generally cost more than those on the back teeth. Choices that you and your dentist must make affect the cost and also include the type of filling material to use—metal (gold or silver) or white (composite or resin).
The different types of tooth cavity fillings come with their unique advantages and disadvantages.
Dentists provide metal fillings that can use either amalgam (silver mixed with other metals for strength) and gold¹.
For both types of metal fillings, advantages include durability and strength. Metal or amalgam fillings can last a long time and rarely cause sensitivity. The average cost for an amalgam filling is $110 to $275².
The main disadvantage of metal fillings is typically the appearance. Many patients do not want silver or gold in their mouths that might be visible when laughing or talking. Some patients may be sensitive or allergic to the materials used in amalgam fillings and must opt for other filling types.
Many dentists typically limit the fillings they provide to white ones made of plastic materials known as "composite" or "resin."
The primary advantage of these composite fillings is their natural look. With the modern materials available today, composite and resin fillings on the front teeth are virtually invisible³. Dentists typically have a variety of shades from which to choose and may be able to custom shade these fillings to exactly match the color of your natural teeth. Composite material is often used for chipped tooth fillings because it adheres to the enamel and blends with the natural tooth⁴.
The common disadvantages of white fillings include their cost and durability. They typically cost more than a metal filling. The average cost for a composite filling is $135 to $325⁵.
Whether your dental insurance is a Dental Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) or Dental Health Maintenance Organization (HMO), you can expect to have some level of coverage for dental fillings to help defray the cost.
For a dental insurance policy to provide coverage for fillings, you must purchase the policy before having your dentist place the fillings. Each dental plan varies in the way they cover fillings. Some may pay a flat fee that is typically based on the type and size of the filling. Others may pay a percentage of the dentist's fee. Most plans also include a deductible—the amount that the patient must pay out of their own pocket before the insurance pays any benefits.
Before scheduling an appointment with your dentist for a filling, you should check with your dental insurance provider and find out exactly how your plan covers them. This way you have no unpleasant surprises when the dentist presents you with the bill.
Under some circumstances, your dentist might need to place a temporary filling, sometimes called a sedative filling, in a tooth for a few weeks before placing a permanent one⁶. If the decay is deep, your dentist might use a temporary filling to soothe the nerves and make sure the tooth is healthy enough to support a permanent filling. If the tooth has had root canal therapy, a temporary filling may help provide protection while the tooth recovers and heals.
Recently, data shows that many temporary fillings are made of a tooth-colored soft material called glass ionomer⁷. Glass ionomer contains compounds that bond tightly to the tooth and medicines that soothe the nerves⁸. While many dentists may consider glass ionomer the appropriate temporary filling for tooth decay as a short-term treatment, temporary fillings are not strong enough for long-term chewing and typically cannot withstand the destructive actions of acidic foods and drinks. The life of a temporary filling can vary from a few weeks to a few months⁹. Your dentist will let you know how long the temporary should last and make your appointment to get the permanent filling at the appropriate time.
Occasionally, a tooth hurts after filling by a dentist. One tooth that has recently had a filling might be sensitive. Extreme hot or cold temperatures from foods or drinks are common triggers for tooth pain after filling by a dentist. Pressure or percussion from chewing food or tapping the teeth together might also set off pain or sensitivity. This type of tooth filling pain is usually temporary and will typically resolve on its own in a few days. In some instances, trauma from dental injections (shots), bite blocks, and suction devices may cause the tooth and gums to be sore for a few days, particularly soon after the numbing wears off.
Back teeth—the molars or wisdom teeth—might hurt when chewing and extend into the jaw joint or ear. Sometimes it is difficult to pinpoint the exact source of dental pain. But if it seems to be in the area where you have a new or old filling, see your dentist right away to help determine and treat the cause.
If you still have tooth pain weeks after filling and the sensitivity or pain does not subside within a week or so as advised by your dentist, contact your dentist.
Fillings sometimes come loose or fall out of the tooth. While this is typically rare, it can be upsetting when it does occur.
If a filling comes out, the tooth becomes vulnerable to decay and nerve damage. The hole that was previously protected by the filling becomes a trap for food debris and bacteria. These can cause further decay and pain. Seeing a dentist immediately is the best course of action so that they can replace the filling before damage occurs.
However, there are times when you cannot see a dentist right away. In these cases, temporary filling materials sold over the counter at pharmacies can help if used only for a few days. Try to avoid eating on the side where the filling came out and be careful to brush the area gently to remove any debris that becomes lodged in the hole. Some home remedies, such as oil of cloves and over-the-counter pain medications¹⁰, can help until you can get to your dentist for treatment.
Never use any type of glue to hold the filling in place. These are toxic and not safe to use inside the mouth.
Bacteria and acids from foods and drinks can damage the outer coating of a tooth, called enamel. When this happens, typically small holes appear in the enamel. These holes are called cavities. To repair a cavity, a dentist removes the damaged enamel and replaces it with a filling. Fillings help restore the tooth to its original shape and size so that you can eat and speak normally again.
If a cavity is allowed to expand and grow, it will eventually reach the inside of the tooth below the enamel where the tooth nerves are located. These deep cavities typically can be extremely painful. If the tooth nerve becomes infected, your dentist might need to pull the tooth or perform expensive root canal treatment and make a crown to save the tooth. For this reason, it is important to see your dentist as soon as you suspect that you are getting a cavity. Better still, see your dentist regularly so that they can spot early decay and provide quick, painless treatments.
Many pharmacies and grocery stores sell temporary filling kits. In emergencies—when a filling comes out, a crown comes off, or you cannot get in to see a dentist within a few days—these kits may be safe to use, and you should follow the product's instructions.
Keeping a homemade temporary filling kit on hand, along with a standard first aid kit, is wise. However, check the expiration dates at least annually and discard it as soon as it goes out of date.
Get more answers to your tooth-filling questions, as well as useful insurance information, tips, and resources.
Does insurance pay for dental fillings?
What does dental insurance cover?
The pros and cons of DPPO and DHMO plans
How to buy dental insurance
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Brought to you by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian), New York, NY. Material discussed is meant for general illustration and/or informational purposes only and it is not to be construed as tax, legal, investment or medical advice. This is not dental care advice and should not be substituted for regular consultation with your dentist. If you have any concerns about your dental health, please contact your dentist's office.
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https://www.medicinenet.com/fillings/article.htm, access January 2021
https://welcomeallsmiles.com/our-services/restorative/composite-restorations, accessed January 2021
https://www.patientconnect365.com/dentalhealthtopics/article/Sedative_Filling__Dental_Procedure_Code_Description, accessed January 2021
Brought to you by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian), New York, NY. Material discussed is meant for general illustration and/or informational purposes only and it is not to be construed as tax, legal, investment or medical advice.(exp.12/22)
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