Is It Time to Replace Your Old Tooth Fillings?
Did you know that each Australian adult has around 11 teeth that are decayed, missing or filled due to dental caries? Dental fillings are one of the most common treatments performed on our patients, and they’re essential to prevent teeth from incurring more decay or damage. But what many people don’t realise is that tooth fillings don’t last forever.
Get all of your questions answered about dental fillings
Do dental fillings need to be replaced?
We all wish that dental fillings could last a lifetime, but unfortunately, they eventually need replacing. Like our natural teeth, fillings are under continual stress from chewing and drinking and sometimes from teeth grinding or jaw clenching. This can wear fillings down or cause them to crack, chip or fall out.
How long do fillings last?
How long your dental fillings last will depend on what material they’re made from, the filling size (smaller fillings tend to last longer) and how well you care for your teeth. As a general guide:
- Glass fillings last around five years
- Composite (tooth-coloured) fillings last around seven years
- Amalgam (metal) fillings will last around 15 years
- Ceramic fillings last around 15 years
- Gold fillings are the most durable, lasting 20 years or more
To prolong the life of your fillings, always brush your teeth twice daily, floss once daily and avoid biting down on hard or sticky foods. Maintaining a healthy diet that’s low in sugar can also help protect your oral health.
How to know if your dental fillings need replacing?
There are a few tell-tale signs that your dental filling needs replacing:
- Tooth sensitivity – that sharp, electric shock-like pain you feel when eating ice cream, sipping a cold drink or even breathing in cold air might be telling you it’s time to replace a filling.
- Tooth pain – whether it’s a dull ache or sharp throbbing, you should never ignore tooth pain. A damaged filling can leave the tooth pulp vulnerable to infection, possibly resulting in irreversible damage. See your dentist ASAP to determine what’s causing your tooth pain.
- Visible holes or cracks – usually, you’ll feel pain or sensitivity when it’s time to replace a filling, but you may see a crack, hole or dark spot first. It’s best to book an appointment with your dentist as soon as you notice any visible signs of wear in your fillings, even if there’s no discomfort.
- Your floss keeps getting stuck or tearing – a damaged filling can leave a jagged edge on your tooth that may catch on the floss. If you notice that your floss is suddenly becoming stuck or tearing, it’s time to see us for a check-up.
A filling that’s damaged or has fallen out will leave the tooth underneath at risk of decay, so you should act as soon as possible to have it fixed.
Decay under tooth filling symptoms
A filling that has deteriorated and has holes or cracks allows food, bacteria and other debris to accumulate underneath, causing tooth decay and sometimes infection. Symptoms of decay under a tooth filling can include:
- Tooth pain or aching
- Tooth sensitivity
- Bad breath
- Dark spots on your teeth
- A bad taste in your mouth
Once you’re experiencing these symptoms, it often means the decay is already quite advanced and needs urgent treatment.
Decay under a tooth filling can travel further into the dental pulp (where your nerves are), resulting in extreme pain. Decay in the dental pulp can require root canal treatment and even cause irreversible ‘dead tooth’.
Get a consultation with a dentist to discuss your dental fillings options
How many times can a dental filling be replaced?
There’s no defined limit on how many times a dental filling can be replaced – it depends on the size of the filling and the condition of the tooth underneath.
Once a filling has been replaced multiple times, the hole may be too large to continue filling or there may not be enough tooth structure remaining. You may need a dental crown, onlay, inlay, or complete tooth restoration instead if this happens.
Does replacing a dental filling hurt?
Sometimes. However, your dentist can administer a local anaesthetic injection, so you don’t experience pain during the procedure. After the numbing wears off, you may feel slight aching or sensitivity. The pain associated with untreated tooth decay is much worse than a filling!
When should I choose a filling versus a dental crown?
The main difference between a dental crown and a filling is that a crown acts as a ‘cap’ over the whole tooth, whereas a filling is intended to fit only over the hole in your tooth. Crowns are more protective, acting as a reinforcement for weak or broken teeth so you can avoid going down the path of root canals, implants or dentures.
You should choose a filling when:
- Your tooth is in reasonably good condition with no cracks
- You have a smaller amount of decay or a small hole in your tooth
- You need a lower-cost option for the short term.
You should choose a dental crown when:
- Your tooth is cracked, broken or weak
- Your tooth is too very decayed or damaged, and a large portion needs filling
- Your tooth is very worn down
- You have a very discoloured or misshapen tooth.
Your dentist will recommend the best option for your condition and help you make an informed choice about your treatment.