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When tooth decay destroys part of a tooth, the resulting cavity is often sensitive. It could expose inner nerves, compromise the tooth’s structural integrity, or become a site of continued infection. Even if the dentist removed the decay from inside the cavity, the hole itself would present a problem for the tooth. By filling in the hole, dentists restore full functionality to a damaged tooth. 

Fillings prevent bacteria or plaque from building up inside cavities, which could lead to serious infections. They also reinforce the tooth, to keep it from chipping, cracking, or breaking inward from trauma. Without a filling, even minor cavities could seriously compromise the health and function of your teeth. Obviously, you should do everything in your power to avoid cavities, but fillings mean getting one isn’t the end of the world.

What to expect after a filling

After a filling, your affected tooth might feel sensitive when you eat something sweet or bite your teeth together, or when the temperature changes. You should see your dentist if this continues.

Benefits and risks of a filling

A filling is usually a simple, early treatment for tooth decay and it might make the tooth sensitive for a short time. Over time, fillings may chip or crack, allowing food to become trapped between the tooth and the filling. However, your dentist will usually check your fillings during a regular dental check-up.

Alternatives to a dental filling

If the tooth decay is very serious and the tooth can't be repaired, the tooth may have to be taken out.


These are the most commonly used fillings, and the ones that replicate the color of teeth. They are very durable and can last up to 15 years with very good oral hygiene. (With poor oral hygiene, the time is much shorter.) When the dentist initially inserts the composite, it’s actually in a paste form. Upon entering the cavity, the composite paste molds to the exact shape of the cavity.

Composites are placed in layers that eventually fill the cavity completely. After each layer is properly placed and shaped, it’s then “cured” in place. They accomplish this by using a bright ultraviolet light to harden it very quickly in a process called “photo-polymerization.” Polymerizing resin-based fillings using ultraviolet light is fast, safe, and very effective. Ultimately, composite resin fillings completely fill in the cavity, look natural, and restore tooth functionality very effectively.

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