Fillings are a restorative dental procedure used to treat tooth decay and repair cracked or broken teeth as well as prevent further damage. According to the CDC National Center for Health Statistics, 91 percent of adults have experienced tooth decay.1 Many people have had a filling by the time they enter adulthood and are likely to continue to need or replace fillings throughout their lifetime. If you need a filling, there are many factors you should consider and discuss with your dentist.
When you receive a filling, the dentist first numbs the tooth and surrounding area before he or she removes the decayed part of the tooth. The dentist then fills the cavity with either an amalgam filling or a composite filling.
An amalgam filling is silver in color and made from a combination of different metals including silver, mercury, tin and copper. Although amalgam contains mercury, the Food and Drug Administration states that dental amalgam is a safe way to fill cavities and has been used for more than 150 years to treat tooth decay.2 The American Dental Association (ADA) also states that dental amalgam has been studied and reviewed extensively and has an established a record of safety and effectiveness.3
A composite filling is tooth-colored and made from a resin composed of a plastic and glass mixture. Composite fillings blend in with natural teeth and are popular for this reason.
When comparing the different types of fillings, a composite filling is more costly, but more aesthetically pleasing, while an amalgam filling is more resistant to every day wear and lasts longer.
The cost of a filling and level of coverage depends on your dental plan, which varies by group, or employer, or if you purchased a dental plan on your own. Many plans cover amalgam fillings on back teeth and composite fillings on front teeth that are more visible, and some plans cover composite fillings on all teeth. A dental plan may also cover the cost of an amalgam filling, and an individual can choose to receive a composite filling instead and pay the difference in cost.
The size of the cavity may also affect the cost of a filling. A cavity that affects more than one surface of the tooth, such as both the chewing surface and the side, may require a multi-surface filling. If a cavity is large, a crown may be needed. Both multi-surface fillings and crowns are more expensive than a single-surface filling.
Since coverage for fillings differs by plan, it is important to review your policy and certificate of coverage before visiting the dentist for treatment.
If a filling or restoration will cost more than $200, we recommend that you and your dentist request a pre-estimate, or pre-authorization. A pre-estimate, although not required, can help you determine how much will be covered by your plan and how much you may owe your dentist. A pre-estimate can help you budget for a dental procedure and can also help you and your dentist decide on the best course of treatment.
Even though most adults have experienced tooth decay, future cavities and dental issues can be prevented by brushing twice and flossing once every day and visiting the dentist regularly. Preventive dental care is key to maintaining a healthy smile throughout your lifetime.
1 “Dental Caries and Tooth Loss in Adults in the United States, 2011–2012” CDC National Center for Health Statistics. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db197.htm. Published May 2015. Accessed April 2018.
2 “About Dental Amalgam Fillings” U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/ProductsandMedicalProcedures/DentalProducts/DentalAmalgam/ucm171094.htm?_ga=2.151861499.337814469.1521659706-480786350.1483735620. Published December 2017. Web. Accessed March 2018.
3 “Statement on Dental Amalgam” American Dental Association. https://www.ada.org/en/about-the-ada/ada-positions-policies-and-statements/statement-on-dental-amalgam. Published August 2009. Web Accessed March 2018.
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