Having a cavity filled is one of the most commonly performed dental procedures. During a filling procedure, your dentist will clean out the cavity by removing any decayed tissue. Then they will place the filling. There are two types of fillings your dentist may recommend: direct or non-direct. Direct fillings are made from composite resin and can be fabricated entirely inside the mouth without the need for a dental laboratory. Indirect fillings, on the other hand, are made from porcelain or metal, are fabricated outside of the mouth, and require a dental laboratory.
Regardless of what type of filling you have, it will eventually wear down over time and require replacement. Generally speaking, however, indirect fillings tend to last longer than direct fillings since they are made from more durable dental materials. On average, direct fillings last about 5-7 years, while indirect fillings can last about 10-15 years.
Although this is the estimated lifespan for dental fillings, there are cases where your filling may not last as long. For example, people who regularly grind or clench their teeth are more likely to need their filling replaced sooner than people who don’t. Additionally, the location of your filling can also contribute to how long it lasts. For example, fillings on the chewing surfaces of teeth or on the back teeth tend to wear down faster than fillings on the smooth surfaces of teeth or on the front teeth.
Since the lifespan of your filling can vary depending on different factors, it is important to know what to look for when your filling needs to be replaced. While your dentist will check your filling during your semi-annual dental exams, here are some signs that your filling may need to be replaced:
The Filling is Missing or Damaged
The most absolute sign that your filling needs to be replaced is if you notice a gap where it used to be. In most cases, you may also find the filling or pieces of it if it has fallen out. Next to losing your filling entirely, the next most obvious sign that you need a new filling is if your existing filling has become cracked. While cracks in a filling may not always be noticeable, you may either see or feel a crack in the filling. If your filling has fallen out or become damaged, be sure to call your dentist immediately.
The Filling is Discolored
Nowadays, most fillings are fabricated to match the natural color of the surrounding tooth structure. In some cases, however, metal can also be used. In both cases, a discolored filling could mean that it needs to be replaced. When tooth-colored fillings need to be replaced, they may turn yellow or become slightly darker than they used to be. Metal fillings that have started to darken will also need to be replaced as this usually means they are starting to corrode.
You are Experiencing Tooth Pain/Sensitivity
Another sign that your filling needs to be replaced is tooth pain and/or sensitivity. When tooth pain is caused by a worn filling, it generally only affects the tooth with the filling. Tooth sensitivity to hot, cold, or sweet can also indicate that a filling needs to be replaced. In both cases, it is recommended to call your dentist as soon as you notice symptoms.
You Have Undergone a Facial Injury
Many people don’t realize that a blow to the face can damage their fillings. If you have sustained a facial injury from a fall or accident, then it is recommended to have your dentist evaluate your teeth and fillings once the initial injury has been treated. Although fillings are strong, they can become damaged from accidents in the same way that teeth can. In some cases, they may even become loose or fall out.
Dr. Admar holds dual certificates — a Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS) in 2010 from India and a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) in 2014 from Canada. He is now a full time practicing dentist in Kamloops where he provides a variety of services, including emergency dentistry. Dr. Admar spends hundreds of hours in continued dental education to stay up to date in cosmetic and implant dentistry and he has achieved several advanced qualifications.