Cavity filling is a method of reconstructing a tooth damaged by caries, to restore its normal function and shape. When performing a filling, the dentist first removes the affected dental tissue, cleans the area, then fills the cavity with protective material.
By sealing the spaces where bacteria enter, the filling can prevent the evolution of dental caries. Filling materials include gold, porcelain, composite resins (tooth-colored), and amalgam (an alloy of mercury, silver, copper, tin, and sometimes zinc).
How Much Does a Cavity Filling Cost?
If you want to fill one or two surfaces with the silver amalgam be prepared to pay anywhere between $55 and $160. The cost of filling more than three surfaces starts at $130 and can be more than $310. The costs of amalgam filling are covered by health insurance policies partially. For instance, patients with health insurance coverage have to pay $40 to $200 out of their pocket for amalgam fillings, with an average price of $100.
In case you want a tooth-colored composite resin filling, expect to spend $95 to $260 for one or more surfaces, while the cost of more than three surfaces is anywhere between $160 and $480. In general, 50% to 80% of the total expenses are covered by dental insurance plans because the higher the price of tooth-colored material the more likely it is to be considered a cosmetic option. However, in the situation of a broken or cracked amalgam filling, the expenses with the composite filling might be covered. For instance, patients with dental insurance have to pay $70 to $310 for the composite filling, with an average price of $215. Meanwhile, the ones who don’t have dental insurance have to pay anywhere between $95 and $360 for a composite filling, with an average price of $210.
If you prefer something more expensive, cast-gold or porcelain fillings, which are known also as onlay or inlay fillings, cost $260 to more than $4,600, depending on the complexity, materials used, and size. This type of filling has to be custom-ordered and needs two visits, plus a temporary filling. Depending on whether the work is considered to be a major or basic service, dental insurance policies might cover 50% to 80% of the expenses of these types of fillings. Moreover, there are dental insurance plans that have a fixed amount that covers the costs with onlay or inlay fillings.
Cavity filling details
Each filling material has its pros and cons. The optimal material for you is determined based on the degree of difficulty of reconstruction, possible allergies to certain materials, the location of the filling, and the cost of the material. The characteristics of the different filling materials are:
Amalgam fillings (silver): are wear-resistant and relatively inexpensive. However, due to the dark color, they are unsightly compared to porcelain or composite works and cannot be used in visible areas of the oral cavity, such as front teeth.
Composite resin filling: can be chosen in the color of the tooth, so they are used in places where a natural, aesthetic appearance is preferred. The ingredients are mixed and inserted directly into the cavity, where they harden. Composite resins are not the ideal material for large fillings, because they shrink and can wear over time. In addition, it stains from coffee, tea, or tobacco and won’t last longer than other types of filling materials – usually 3-10 years.
Gold fillings: they are made by request in the laboratory and then cemented on the tooth. Gold inlays are well-tolerated by gingival tissue and can last over 20 years. For these reasons, many doctors consider gold to be the best filling material. But it is also the most expensive and the work requires multiple visits.
Porcelain fillings: they are called ceramic inlays or onlays and are made by request in the laboratory, then cemented to the tooth. They can be chosen according to the shade of the tooth and are resistant to staining. A porcelain reconstruction covers most of the tooth. The cost of the porcelain work is close to that of the gold work.
What to expect while cavity filling
- Local anesthesia – at the beginning of the procedure, the dentist will most likely give you local anesthesia, so that you do not feel pain during the treatment.
- Caries removal – the dentist cleans and removes any traces of tooth decay, then prepares the place where he will apply the filling.
- Surface preparation – they will then treat the cavity formed by cleaning caries with phosphoric acid for adhesion, then using a bonding agent that will make the connection between your natural tooth and the filling material.
- Application of the filling material – the composite chosen for the filling will be inserted into the formed cavity and exposed to ultraviolet light to harden quickly.
- Sanding the filling – after fixing the filling, the dentist will sand it, making sure you can bite without any discomfort.
What are the extra costs?
Before the dentist will perform the filling procedure, initial exams that cost $25 to $110, and dental X-rays, which cost $15 to $260, are required in order to determine the extent of the decay.
Important things to consider
Tooth filling depends on how well it is cared for. With the necessary care, the filling lasts even 20 years, although it is recommended that you check it periodically at a dental office. Often, however, the appearance of secondary caries causes the replacement of the filling.
Amalgam fillings and those made of composite resins cannot be bleached. If you are not satisfied with the look, it is time to replace the old fillings with new ones. If you replace these fillings, you need to do this after whitening, to get the new improved color of your teeth.
How do I know if I need a filling?
Only your dentist can figure out if you have a cavity that requires filling. During the inspection, the dentist examines the surface of each tooth with a small mirror.
Any abnormal appearance will be analyzed with the help of special tools. You may also need an x-ray of the entire mouth or part of it. The type of treatment chosen by the dentist depends on the degree of damage caused by tooth decay.
How can I save money?
You can find lower prices at the dental school clinics, where the services are performed by supervised students.
There are some tips on how to find low-cost dental care on the official website of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.