Knowing and Managing the Cost of a Dental Filling

Knowing and Managing the Cost of a Dental Filling

No one enjoys getting a tooth filled, least of all having to pay for it. Dental fillings are not something that most people save for. But, unless you have dental insurance, the unexpected expense will fall completely on you to pay. Even if you are insured, you still might have to pay a portion of the cost of a dental filling.

There are some steps that patients can take to make the cost of dental fillings easier on the wallet, or at least be prepared. Knowing the cost of various treatment options and what can be done to manage those costs helps. 

Prevention and Checkups that Prevent the Need for Dental Fillings

woman brushing teeth in mirror for good oral care

The best scenario is to avoid cavities in the first place, but that isn’t always realistic. According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, 92% of adults aged 20 to 64 have dental caries (which is another name for cavities). 

This doesn’t mean that the average American should just ignore good dental care—it does help. Brushing, flossing, and getting regular checkups can definitely prevent cavities and a lower the chances of tooth decay. 

Aside from normal oral hygiene, dentists offer fluoride treatments and dental sealants, both of which can protect teeth from decay. Dental sealants are often recommended for children who are particularly cavity-prone. They are a clear polymer that is painted onto teeth, sealing them so cavity-causing bacteria can’t penetrate the enamel. They can be considered an investment that will pay off by helping to avoid future cavities and their costs.

Even people who are doing everything right can still get cavities. This is why regular dental checkups are so important. With x-rays and thorough exams, dentists can spot the signs of tooth decay before their patients can. Finding and fixing cavities before they grow too big will reduce the pain, discomfort—and often the cost—of getting a dental filling. 

Don’t Let Them Get Worse—Fill it Fast

Man getting a filling done with proper safety precautions

All cavities start as a tiny hole in the tooth. Catching one when it first starts will mean that it is cheaper to fill. This is because dentists typically charge based on how many surfaces of the tooth they need to work on. 

The dentist will need to drill and fill all areas of the cavity. A cavity that has grown to the point of wrapping around the tooth, spreading to its front, side, and top, will take much more time and trouble to fix than one that is still just one tiny hole on the front surface.

When tooth decay is left untreated, eventually a filling won’t be enough to fix it. Tooth decay is caused by bacteria. When the bacteria eat through to the inside of the tooth, an infection can spread to the root. The patient might need a crown or a root canal procedure, both of which are more painful and much more expensive than a simple filling. In the most severe cases, the tooth might need to be pulled. And a dental implant or dentures are even pricier.

Different Dental Filling Materials Might Have Different Costs

are dental fillings toxic? Here is an example of an amalgam filling in a model of the mouth

One way to manage the cost of a dental filling is to choose the most economical material. There are four types of fillings that are available at most dental practices. Some dentists may prefer to stick to certain materials. It is best to discuss your options with the dentist to see what is available and compare costs.

We’ll talk about insurance later, but for now, we’ll look at what these different materials cost for a patient who does not have insurance and has to pay out-of-pocket. 

Both gold fillings and ceramic (also called porcelain) fillings are at the high end of the price range. A single filling can cost between $250 and $4500 for either type. Gold has the advantage of being very durable. Ceramic can be brittle and may chip or crack, but it will match the natural color of the tooth. 

Amalgam fillings were once the most common type of filling. They are often called a silver filling because of their color. They have the lowest price point at $110 to $200 each and last a long time. Amalgam does contain some silver but is made mostly of a mixture of mercury, copper, and zinc. Some patients worry about mercury poisoning, but the scientific community agrees that amalgam fillings are safe. Even so, with the introduction of new, tooth-colored alternatives, amalgam fillings aren’t used as much as they once were.  

A composite resin filling is becoming the most common option offered by dentists. It is made of glass particles and resin that matches the color of the tooth. It is stronger than ceramic, and only slightly more expensive than amalgam at $135 to $240 per filling.

All of these dental filling materials have a range of prices because several things factor into the cost. Prices will vary by the dentist and by the region where they practice. As mentioned above, how big the cavity is and how many surfaces of the tooth it covers will play a part too. And if the cavity is in a hard to reach place such as in between two back molars, the dentist may charge more for the extra time and expertise necessary to fill it.

When faced with needing a dental filling, talk to the dentist about the options that are available to you. They will be able to make a recommendation that best fits your situation and your budget. If your dentist doesn’t offer a solution that works for you, you can use our online tool to search for someone else in your area.

Additions to the Cost of a Dental Filling

how much does invisalign cost?

When managing your budget for having your teeth fixed, there are some other costs to consider. Even if you are certain you have a cavity, the dentist will still need to perform an exam that you will have to pay for. As part of that exam, you will most likely have some x-rays so the dentist can see the extent of the damage to the tooth and its exact location. The cost of both an exam and at least one x-ray needs to be figured into the overall cost of fixing a cavity.

Sedation is an optional service that will make patients more comfortable while having a dental filling put in. Dentists might offer nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, oral sedation, or intravenous sedation. Nitrous oxide is usually about $50, oral sedation is about $245, and intravenous sedation can run as much as $560. 

While many patients might like the idea of having some help relaxing during treatment, they need to consider if the additional cost works with their budget. 

Dental Filling Payment Options

dental care credit card

To manage the cost of getting a filling, patients have some different payment options. 

Insurance. Dental insurance will help defray the costs quite a bit, often including routine checkups and cleanings. Unfortunately, it is not an option for everyone. If a patient does have insurance through their employer, or if they have purchased it on the open market, they will still incur some costs. There are, of course, the premiums, and there could be a deductible to meet before being able to receive benefits. In addition, some treatments may be only partially covered, or not covered at all. It is important to become familiar with exactly what the policy is and is not good for.

Payment Plans. Many dentists will work with patients on a payment plan where the cost of treatment can be spread out over several months.  

Discounts. Patients can ask their dentists about specials and discounts. Some practices may run promotions for new patients or with special prices for certain treatments. They might also offer a discount if the patient can pay in cash.

HSA/FSA: Health Savings Accounts and Flexible Spending Accounts are programs offered by some employers. Money is taken out of an employee’s paycheck and held in an account that can be used for medical or dental expenses. This is a great option to handle the cost of a dental filling.

Dental Credit Cards. Patients can get credit cards that are exclusively for use at a dentist’s office. These may be a good option, as long as the user is clear about the terms and requirements. 

Taking care of cavities when they occur is something that shouldn’t be ignored. Your dental health is important to your overall health and wellness. With a little research and shopping around, the cost of a dental filling does not have to break the bank. By asking questions of the dentist and exploring all of the options available, it’s possible to get the care you need.