Dental fillings are substances (such as silver, gold, and ceramic) used to repair cavity-filled, decayed or damaged teeth. Fillings fill holes caused by tooth damage. Generally, dental fillings cannot completely repair the entire damaged teeth, but they are still necessary to replace the tooth structure damaged due to tooth decay and prevent it from getting worse.
Dental fillings also restore the tooth’s strength and functionality. With proper maintenance and hygiene routines, fillings can last for several years, but they will not last forever, and their longevity mainly depends on their type and material.
After a specific time, dental fillings need to replace because they have a limited period of use, and after that, they start to fail. It is essential to know the signs of a failing filling so it can be replaced before further damage occurs. But typically, fillings can last for almost 10 years.
In addition to the materials used, other factors also affect the lifespan of a filling, and they usually include:
- You’re eating habits.
- Dental hygiene routines.
- Trauma to your tooth.
- Decay around the filling.
- Teeth grinding habits.
These factors significantly affect the durability and longevity of fillings, and the materials used in their fabrication can give you an idea of how long a particular filling would last.
Expected Longevity of Dental Fillings
Selecting a particular filling type that works best for you involves some consideration, as this will be the major determining factor behind how long your filling will last. When deciding on the type of material for dental fillings, one must take into consideration the following factors:
- The appearance of the material.
- The durability of the material.
- The longevity.
- The cost of that particular filling material.
The following are the most commonly used materials for dental restorations.
Amalgam fillings also called silver fillings. These fillings are a mixture of copper, silver, tin alloy particles and elemental mercury. They are the least expensive type of fillings one can have and also prove to be the most durable ones.
A study found that the average age of an amalgam filling at the time it needed to be replaced is about 15 years, and on average, they can last for 6 years without causing any issues. But with mercury amalgam fillings, there are relatively high risks of toxicity.
Moreover, one should not have mercury amalgam fillings if they:
- Are under 6 years of age?
- Have a neurological condition or kidney problems.
- Have an allergy to mercury
Composite fillings are popular among patients because they usually blend with the natural color of surrounding teeth and look visually pleasing. They are usually made from ceramic and acrylic resins. Composite fillings chemically bond with the surrounding tooth with an adhesive and, on average, last about 7 years.
But a study from 2014 has shown that if patients maintain good oral health, they can even last for 10 years or more. The materials used in composite fillings can also repair chipped teeth and fill in small gaps between teeth.
Gold fillings usually cost a lot more than amalgam or composite ones. But they are considered the most durable dental restorative options and commonly used for the anterior teeth (molars), where they are not visible. Generally, with proper maintenance, gold fillings can last for more than 20 years.
Ceramic and Glass Ionomer Fillings
Ceramic dental fillings are made with a type of porcelain material that can last for 15 years or longer. But they are more expensive than gold dental fillings and are among the least common types of fillings. Ceramic fillings are commonly fabricated in dental labs or by a milling machine according to the tooth impressions of patients and are then glued into their teeth.
On the other hand, glass ionomer fillings made with acrylic and glass and can placed directly in the tooth. They are relatively weaker than other fillings and are typically used for small cavities near the gum line and not on chewing surfaces. Glass ionomer fillings can last for about 5 years, on average.
When Should Dental Fillings Be Replaced?
After specific periods, fillings usually crack or wear down to a point where they can no longer protect the tooth from further decay or sometimes, fillings just fall out and need to replaced.
In the initiation, people usually do not notice when a filling has problems, but dentists can spot trouble in the beginning during a routine dental checkup. Dentists usually use a tool called an explorer to probe around the edges of the filling. Make sure it still sealed correctly and has no problem.
They also examine the tooth to identify if there are spots where cavities can enter the tooth and cause further decay. In short, if the filling no longer keeps out bacteria and supports the tooth, it’s time for its replacement.
How Often Should Dental Fillings Be Replaced?
Dental fillings usually replaced every 7 to 10 years. However, silver or amalgam fillings can last for more than 15 years without replacement and are popular due to their durability and affordability.
What Type of Filling Lasts the Longest?
Gold fillings last the longest, anywhere between 15 to 30 years. Silver amalgam dental fillings usually last from 10 to 15 years before they need to replace. Composite resin fillings, on the other hand, usually do not last as long and need to replace after every 5 to 7 years.
How Many Times Can a Tooth Be Filled?
There is no significant number of how many times one can replace a filling. Usually, fillings replacement should stopped after the hole becomes too large. Once you have more filling material than natural tooth material, the tooth no longer holds enough strength and needs other dental restorative treatments such as crowns or dentures.
Is It Painful to Have Dental Fillings?
No, Dentists usually numb the affected area with anesthetics before placing fillings, and patients usually do not feel any pain sensations during the whole procedure. In some cases, they might feel a bit of a sting, but that is usually a reaction from the local anesthetic when it starts to block the nerve signals to stop the pain.