Dental fillings: A Bite-Sized Guide

This section will give you a summary guide of the different types of fillings for teeth that are widely used by dentists.  This page will focus on what dental fillings are, why they are needed and list the choices of different filling material types.


What are fillings for teeth?

Dental fillings are where a material is used to fix (‘fill’) a tooth that is damaged/deficient in some way.

Common reasons why fillings are needed:

Filling instrument tray

So the benefits of dental fillings may include (depending on the reason for the filling):

  • Removal of pain/sensitivity.
  • Removal of decay to halt its spread through the tooth.  If decay is not stopped it will continue until the tooth is destroyed.
  • Protection from tooth-wear.
  • Improved appearance.
  • Providing better biting or chewing surfaces.


Decay remains the main reason why dental fillings are needed.  In summary, the longer decay is left, the harder and more expensive it is to fix.  If left too long it may be too late to fix the tooth, i.e. it will need extraction.

You often won’t know you have decay until the tooth is badly damaged.  Therefore regular check-ups with the dentist are very important.  The dentist will inspect each tooth for decay and periodically take X-rays to check for decay.  There is a lot more advice in our treatment of decay section


If you need a filling:

Your dentist will advise you on:

  • The various materials available to fill the tooth and what is best in each case.
  • Any potential future problems with the filling, e.g. if it is very large and/or close to the nerve.
  • The cost of any work.
  • Whether you may benefit from sedation to have the filling placed; for example if you have dental anxiety.


What are the choices of tooth filling material?

Your dentist will help make the decision on which material is used for a filling.  This decision is based on these factors:

"an image of dental drilling of an old filling"

  • Your preferences in terms of appearance and longevity of the filling.
  • Cosmetic influences including how visible the filling will be.
  • The type of cavity/fracture etc.
  • The size the filling will need to be and where on the tooth it will lie.
  • The amount of healthy tooth that remains, to hold the filling.
  • Your medical history including any allergies.
  • Biting forces the filling will be exposed to.
  • Cost of materials.


The most common choices for filling a tooth are:

Chess pieces to represent amalgam vs composite

“Amalgam vs composite” – is it as straightforward as black against white? Read this article for more

Follow the links attached to each choice for more advice.


“Which Material is Best for a Filling?”

Each material has its own strengths and weaknesses.  These will vary according to the above factors. So there is no definite answer to which material is best… it depends on each circumstance!

We will discuss the various strengths and weaknesses further in each article on the materials.


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