Types of dental filling material: Which one is safe?

Good news: the number of cavities and the need for fillings has decreased as modern dental practices have made it easier for people to better care for their teeth. However, some cavities still happen. Fortunately, there are more types of fillings for teeth today than ever before. Fillings vary in complexity and material. Some are direct fillings, placed “directly” in a cavity, although others are indirect, wherein an impression of the tooth is taken and a custom filling is created to fit around it. If your dentist suggests a tooth restoration, knowing what’s available can help you make the best choice for your mouth.

When is a filling used?

To treat a cavity, your dentist will remove the decayed portion of the tooth and then “fill” the area on the tooth where the decayed material was removed. Fillings are also used to repair cracked or broken teeth and teeth that have been worn down from misuse.

What Steps Are Involved in Filling a Tooth?

First, the dentist will use a local anesthetic to numb the area around the tooth to be filled. Next, a drill, air abrasion instrument, or laser will be used to remove the decayed area. Then your dentist will probe or test the area to determine if all the decay has been removed. Once the decay has been removed, the dentist will prepare the space for the filling by cleaning the cavity of bacteria and debris. If the decay is near the root, your dentist may first put in a liner made of glass ionomer, composite resin, or other material to protect the nerve. Generally, after the filling is in, your dentist will finish and polish it.

types of dental fillings

These days, dental fillings vary in how they look, strength, longevity, and of course how much they cost. Most cases, your dentist will assist you in choosing the right filling material based on size and location of the cavity, among other things.

So, what choices of material do you have? And what is the best material for dental fillings? Let’s take a closer look.

Amalgam (silver fillings)

One of the most common types of dental fillings is amalgam, also seen as silver fillings.
These are silver-colored and have been one of the most common filling materials. Amalgam fillings are easy for dentists to work with and are more affordable for patients. These are made from a combination of metals including mercury, silver, tin and copper. The durability of silver amalgam fillings make them the best choice for large cavities or cavities in the back teeth. The molar teeth are used most during chewing, and amalgam fillings can withstand these forces to provide a long-term, reliable filling for a cavity. On average, an amalgam filling lasts eight to ten years. Amalgam also hardens quickly, which is very beneficial if the filling needed is on a hard-to-reach tooth or if the filling is for a child.

It is made from a combination of metals, including silver copper, tin, mercury and zinc, and is a relatively durable filling material. It can withstand chewing pressure for well over 10 years and is also very affordable, making it an ideal option for most.
The only downside to amalgam fillings is the fact that they are silver in colour, making them readily obvious or visible to the eye. scientists suggest minimising their use in pregnant or breastfeeding women, children or people with kidney disease. Some may also experience greater degree of tooth sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures.

How safe is amalgam?

There has been a lot of controversy relating to dental amalgam in recent years. Dental amalgam releases very low levels of mercury in the form of vapour which may be inhaled and absorbed by the lungs. However, the FDA has reviewed all of the best scientific evidence and come to the conclusion that amalgam tooth fillings are safe for adults and children over the age of 6.

Composite resin (tooth-coloured fillings)

Composite resin is a white or tooth-coloured material that can be matched to your existing tooth colour for a more natural finish. These days, many people will opt to have their old amalgam fillings removed and replaced with composite resin. This versatile filling material is also generally used to repair cracked or chipped teeth.

The disadvantages of composite fillings is that they are not as durable as amalgam fillings and do not last as long if used for adult back teeth, they are also slightly more expensive as it takes more time in the chair to place.

When can they be used?

Tooth coloured fillings are suitable for front or back teeth and can be used for:
• Cracked or broken teeth
• Worn teeth
• Closing a space between 2 teeth
• Chipped teeth
• Decayed teeth
They provide ample resistance to fracture in small to medium fillings which need to withstand pressure from stress such as chewing. One of the main benefits of composite fillings is that they are bonded to the tooth structure. This gives additional support while at the same time decreasing any marginal gap that can trap bacteria and increase the risk of secondary tooth decay. While they’re not permanent, they are very durable and will give you a long-lasting beautiful smile for many years.


Composite fillings can usually be placed in one appointment. First, you will be given a local anaesthetic to numb the area around the tooth enabling the dentist to remove the decayed area.
The cavity will then be cleaned and prepared before the dental filling material is placed. It’s vital at this stage that the area is kept dry. The composite filling is shaped and put in place after which a light is shone onto it to ‘cure’ or set it. All that’s left to do is a quick polish and hey presto, your tooth has been restored to its original shape and function.
Don’t be alarmed if you feel sensitivity to hot and cold following the placement of your composite filling. This is totally natural and should soon subside once your tooth becomes acclimatised to a new filling.

Glass-ionomer cement

Less common than composite or amalgam are glass ionomer fillings. They are made from acrylic and a type of glass, and do not last as long as other types of filling materials. It is usually used for fillings that are below the gumline and release fluoride over time to help strengthen the surrounding tooth structure.
This material can be quite weak and is typically only used for small fillings near the gumline and away from any biting force or used as a temporary filling. Cost wise, is similar to composite tooth fillings.

Porcelain fillings (ceramic filling)

Porcelain fillings can be made to match your tooth colour and are extremely durable, with some lasting well over 15 years. The only downside to porcelain fillings is the cost but the longevity and the strength of the filling make up for it.

Gold fillings

As you would imagine, the biggest advantage of choosing gold fillings is for its strength and durability, and perhaps the colour if you’re looking to flex a little. The most obvious disadvantage of choosing gold fillings is how much it costs.

It may cost up to 10 times more than the amount of an amalgam filling. It also requires a couple of visits to place.

What to expect after a filling?

After getting a filling, your tooth may feel a little sensitive when you eat something sweet, cold or bite your teeth together. If sensitivity persists, we recommend visiting your dentist.

What is the best material for dental fillings?

When it comes to choosing the best material for dental fillings the only person who can help you determine which material is most suited for your needs is your dentist. Based on the location of the cavity in your mouth, the severity of decay your dentist will be able to provide you with a solution that matches your budget and current dental health.


When in doubt, always book in an appointment with a dentist to find out what’s best for you.

What is the safest dental filling material?

Based on current scientific evidence, neither amalgam nor other dental filling material alternatives are harmful for the general population. Patients should be informed of all their dental options and decide – along with the help of their dentist – the best solution for their needs.
This will be based on characteristics such as primary or permanent teeth and allergies to mercury or other components of restorative materials. Care also needs to be exercised where pregnancy is concerned.

How should I care for my teeth with fillings?

To maintain fillings, you should follow good oral hygiene: visit your dentist regularly for cleanings, brush with a fluoride toothpaste, floss frequently and use an antibacterial mouthwash at least once daily. If your dentist suspects that a filling might be cracked or is “leaking” (this happens when the sides of the filling don’t fit tightly against the tooth, allowing debris and saliva to seep down between the filling and the tooth, which can lead to decay) they will take X-rays to assess the situation. If your tooth is extremely sensitive, if you feel a sharp edge, if you notice a crack in the filling, or if a piece of the filling is missing, ca