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About 32% of adults have untreated dental caries. About 17% of children have untreated caries, too. Many people feel apprehensive about filling a cavity for the first time. 

Are you curious to learn about the cavity filling process before your next procedure?

Here’s everything you need to know about what to expect while getting a cavity filled. Learning about the process can help soothe your concerns. That way, you can walk into your next appointment without dental anxiety.

Prepare for your next dental appointment with this guide on the cavity filling process.

What to Expect

Oral disease impacts over 3.5 billion people. Untreated dental caries can lead to tooth decay, which is the most common health condition in the world. Treating your dental caries by filling a cavity can keep bacteria from spreading. 

Imagine a cavity as a hole that’s left in your tooth. Bacteria can cause enough decay to destroy a part of your tooth. The hole, or cavity, will be a breeding ground for this bacteria unless you seek treatment. 

As the bacteria spread they can damage the entire tooth.

On the day of your appointment, make sure to block out about an hour of time for the procedure. Your hygienist will likely need to take X-rays beforehand. You’ll also use this time to talk to discuss the procedure beforehand. 

First, your dentist will numb your teeth, gums, and the surrounding skin. The numbing process will help reduce your discomfort as you’re getting a cavity filled. 

Once the area is numb, your dentist will drill out the decay from your tooth. Removing the decay first keeps the bacteria from spreading. However, this won’t repair the damage you’ve already sustained.

That’s why getting a cavity filled is essential.

After drilling the hole in, your dentist will fill the removed area with a filling. Most dentists use fillings made from composite resin. Others use glass ionomer and silver amalgam fillings.

The filling will replace the part of your tooth the decay destroyed. During the cavity filling process, your dentist will mold the filling to match the shape of your tooth. This ensures the filling restores your tooth’s natural strength and integrity.

At the same time, a dental filling procedure will ensure future decay can’t enter the area.

Types of Cavity Fillings

The specific method your dentist uses will depend on the type of filling you’re receiving. These fillings will ensure your tooth’s functionality and health is restored. 

The type of filling you receive depends on:

  • What your insurance will cover
  • Your aesthetic preferences
  • The cost
  • Which fillings your dentist offers

Different types of filling also vary in color and strength. The two most common types are composite and amalgam, but here are some of the other types you might consider.

Amalgam Fillings

Dental professionals have used amalgam fillings for over a century. These fillings are strong and therefore ideal for handling the force your molars need when you’re chewing.

Amalgam fillings are made from a combination of different metallic elements. As a result, they’re sometimes noticeable when you smile. When amalgam fillings are the least expensive option, you might decide on something more subtle instead. 


Ceramic fillings are often made of porcelain. These fillings are tooth-colored and therefore less noticeable. They’ll also retain stains less often than other types of fillings.

While ceramic fillings can hide the fact that you previously had a cavity, they’re also more expensive. In some cases, ceramic fillings are as expensive as gold cavity fillings. 

Composite Fillings

If you’re looking for a durable, long-lasting option, consider composite fillings. Also known as filled resins, these fillings are made from a combination of quartz filler and glass. Like ceramic fillings, composites are ideal for matching the natural color of your teeth. 

These fillings are best for small- or mid-sized restoration. Composites are also ideal for areas of your mouth that are responsible for moderate chewing. 

Glass Ionomer

This type of filling uses a combination of glass and acrylic. Glass ionomers fill cavities by releasing fluoride to help protect your teeth.

However, glass ionomers are less durable than other types of cavity fillings. You might need to replace this type of filling within five years. 


Silver and gold amalgam can be used for cavity fillings. However, gold fillings tend to cost a lot more. Many people prefer gold over silver for durability. 

You might decide against metal fillings if you’re worried about the appearance. Metal fillings usually last about 10 years before they require replacement. 

When to Replace a Filling

If you’ve already undergone the cavity filling process at least once, you might need to get your filling replaced. Most fillings last for years before they need replacement. However, they’ll wear down as you chew, grind, or clench your teeth.

If you’re prone to grinding your teeth, you might need your fillings replaced a lot sooner.

Let your dentist know if you notice any cracks or wear and tear. If your filling is damaged, chewing with it could cause a crack. You might need additional repair, which is usually more expensive than a simple dental filling procedure. 

If your cavity is too damaged, your dentist might repair your tooth with a crown instead. 

Potential Problems

Now that you know what to expect when your dentist is filling a cavity, it’s important to learn what could happen afterward.

One potential complication is an infection. Sometimes, the cavity filling can pull away from its tooth. This creates a small space.

That space is large enough for bacteria to breed, spread, and cause additional tooth decay. Your cavity filling could also crack, break, or fall out.

This usually occurs when you bite down on something hard. A sports injury could cause a crack as well.

If you experience any problems with your filling, make sure to contact your dentist right away. 

What to Expect When Filling a Cavity: Your Guide to the Process

Now that you know what to expect filling a cavity, you can set your dental anxiety aside. If you have any other questions, make sure to ask your dentist during your appointment. They can help you determine if the cavity filling process is best for you.

Ready for your dental filling appointment? Fill out one of our new patient forms today!