Dental fillings are used to repair worn, decayed or damaged teeth. It is important to remember that cleaning your teeth regularly and enjoying a wide variety of nutritious foods can help to prevent tooth decay and avoid the need for fillings.
Dental check-ups can help to make sure any problems are found and treated early. Ask your oral health professional how often you should have a dental check-up.
Types of oral health professionals
The term oral health professional refers to the various members of the dental team. This includes:
- specialist dentists
- oral health therapists
- dental therapists
- dental hygienists
- dental assistants
- dental prosthetists.
The oral health professionals you see will depend of the type of dental care you need.
When you receive a filling, first a drill and other tools are used to remove the decay. The hole is cleaned and dried, and then filled with a filling material.
Types of filling material include:
- dental amalgam fillings (also known as ‘silver’ fillings)
- tooth-coloured fillings (also known as ‘white’ fillings)
Other forms of tooth repair, such as gold fillings or ceramic crowns, are more expensive alternatives to amalgam and tooth-coloured filling materials.
Dental amalgam fillings
Dental amalgam is often used for filling molars (back teeth) that get a lot of wear and tear. Amalgam is made up of a mixture of metals, usually including silver, tin, copper, zinc and mercury.
Tooth-coloured fillings have been used in front teeth for cosmetic reasons for many years. Recent improvements have made tooth-coloured fillings more affordable and they are often used as an alternative to dental amalgam. However, tooth-coloured fillings may not always be suitable. For example, this filling material may not be the best choice for a large filling in a back tooth.
Mercury in dental amalgam
Some people are worried about the use of dental amalgam because it contains mercury. While high levels of mercury are harmful to human health, the level of ‘free’ mercury (mercury that could get into the body) in set amalgam fillings is so tiny that it has no effect on health.
International reviews of scientific evidence have not linked the use of dental amalgam directly with poor health. The current advice from the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia is that, for most people, this very low level of mercury exposure will not affect their general health. There is also no evidence to support any connection between amalgam fillings and cancer.
Some countries have been trying to phase out the use of amalgam fillings for environmental reasons. Although mercury occurs naturally in the environment, incorrect disposal of dental amalgam can add to mercury levels in the environment that build up in the food chain.
Where to get help
- Your public dental clinic
- Community dental clinics
- Your private dental clinic
Things to remember
- Dental fillings are used to repair worn, decayed or damaged teeth.
- A range of filling materials is available. Talk about your treatment choices with your oral health professional.
- A healthy diet and brushing twice a day can prevent the need for fillings in teeth due to tooth decay.
- People over the age of 18 months should use a suitable fluoride toothpaste.