According to the CDC, 90 percent of adults over 20 years old have had a cavity in a permanent tooth. Once a tooth has a cavity, decay must be removed to prevent further deterioration. The common fix is a dental filling.
While fillings are considered a permanent solution to cavities, they will eventually wear out, come loose, or develop other problems. Most adults will need to have one or more of them replaced during their lifetime.
There is no set timeline for when dental fillings need to be replaced. Dentists do not typically remove old fillings just because they are a certain age. Instead, they consider the filling material and the patient’s dental habits. Most importantly, they look for signs that the filling is no longer effectively protecting the tooth from further decay.
How Long Do Dental Fillings Last?
Some materials used for fillings last longer than others. The average lifespan for the various types of dental fillings is:
- Amalgam—15 years
- Composite Resin—7 to 10 years
- Ceramic—15 years
- Gold—15 to 30 years
- Glass Ionomer —5 to 7 years
These are average estimates. Dentists might need to replace dental fillings much sooner. With proper care, some fillings, however, can last much longer.
A poor diet that includes a lot of sugar along with inadequate brushing can add to the potential risk of new cavities forming beneath or around a filling. Biting down on ice or hard candy can chip or crack fillings. And clenching the jaw or nighttime teeth grinding (called bruxism) will wear on most types of dental filling materials.
All of these things can contribute to the dentist replacing a dental filling, regardless of its age.
Types of Dental Fillings
The options for dental fillings range not only in durability but in price and appearance, too. The dentist will usually suggest the filling material that will work best for the location of the cavity. For example, molars typically need something strong to withstand heavy chewing, while something that blends in with the natural tooth color might be best for a front tooth.
Often called silver or metal filling, amalgam fillings are a mix of silver, copper, tin alloy, and elemental mercury. Amalgam fillings have been used by dentists for over 100 years because they are durable and affordable. Their silver color does make them stand out, however.
The use of amalgam fillings has become less common due to the uncertainty around the safety of its mercury content. But the mercury that is toxic to humans is “methylmercury.” The mercury used in fillings is elemental mercury, which is quite different.
In an abundance of caution, the FDA has issued a recommendation for high-risk populations. But the tiny amount of elemental mercury in dental amalgam is completely safe for the general population and does not cause mercury poisoning in humans.
The majority of dentists agree that it is not necessary to replace old silver fillings as long as they are in good shape.
In recent decades, composite resin has replaced amalgam as the most commonly used filling material. These fillings combine an acrylic polymer with ground glass-like particles for a hard, durable surface. Best of all, dental fillings of composite resin can be made to match the color of a patient’s natural teeth.
Although more expensive than amalgam, composite resin is still very affordable, which is good since they do not last nearly as long.
Ceramic & Gold Fillings
Both ceramic and gold fillings are expensive options. Gold fillings, however, can last more than 30 years, so may never need to be replaced. Ceramic fillings can last 25 years but may chip or crack. Ceramic fillings mimic the look of a tooth, while gold stands out.
As long as it is used on a non-biting tooth surface or for a very small cavity, a glass ionomer filling can last 5 to 7 years. This type of filling is fairly weak, though, and is most often used as a temporary filling. The material can often be placed directly on the tooth with little preparation. Then easily removed later, for replacement by something more permanent.
How Much Does It Cost to Replace a Filling?
Dental insurance usually covers dental fillings. Those without insurance can expect these out-of-pocket costs per filling
- Amalgam: $100-$300
- Composite Resin: $150-$400
- Ceramic & Gold: $250 – $4500
- Glass Ionomer: $200-$400
Keep in mind that there will be other costs like the dental exam and x-rays in addition to the filling itself. Dentists may also offer nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, oral sedation, or intravenous sedation at an additional cost.
CareCredit or other dental credit cards are an option to help pay for dental work. If paying for the filling is a concern, the dentist may have a payment plan or other options to help control costs.
5 Signs Your Dental Filling Needs to Be Replaced
Practicing diligent dental hygiene is the best way to extend the lifespan of dental fillings. However, it is normal for fillings to need replacing at some point.
For patients with old fillings, there are several indicators that it might be time to replace them. If the patient is getting regular check-ups, the dentist will monitor existing fillings. They will often notice that a filling should be replaced before it has a chance to cause issues.
These other signs might indicate that it is time to restore a filling:
- You are experiencing tooth sensitivity to hot or cold, or when brushing.
- There is visible damage to the filling, such as a chip or crack.
- The tooth hurts at the location of the filling.
- You sustained a recent injury to a filled tooth.
- The dental filling is loose or has fallen out (contact a dentist immediately).
If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, it is time to contact a dentist. Dental fillings protect teeth that have been eroded by cavities. It’s important to replace a filling as soon as possible if it is damaged or loose. Waiting too long to contact a dentist can leave the tooth vulnerable to another cavity. If too much of the tooth deteriorates, a filling may not be enough to fix it. A root canal procedure and crown might be necessary instead.
Do you think it might be time for a new filling? Find a local dentist and book an appointment.