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Dental Fillings: Amalgam, Resin, Glass Ionomer & More

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Dentist preparing happy patient for dental filling

Tooth decay is one of the most common health problems in the world. If you have a cavity, you likely know you need a dental filling, but what type of materials do filings use? Your dentist has many options, including tooth-coloured and gold fillings. 

Each type of dental filling has its advantages and disadvantages, so which material should you receive? Learn more about dental fillings, including amalgam, resin, glass ionomer, and more. 

What Are Dental Fillings? 

A dental filling is a treatment for cavities and broken, worn down, or cracked teeth. It returns a tooth to its regular function and shape after it sustains damage. Fillings are one of the most common dental treatments; many children and adults receive them

When Are Dental Fillings Used? 

Dental fillings mainly treat cavities, also known as tooth decay. A cavity is a small hole on the surface of the tooth. This decay occurs when sugars from the food and bacteria in your mouth combine to produce a tooth-damaging acid. 

Dental fillings prevent tooth decay from worsening. Without effective treatment, cavities become larger and dig deeper into your tooth. This decay can lead to infections and potential tooth loss. 

Fillings aren’t only for cavities. Your dentist may use dental fillings to treat other tooth damage, including: 

  • Cracked or broken teeth
  • Worn-down teeth 

How Do Dental Fillings Work? 

Cavities aren’t usually a cause for concern if dealt with quickly. They typically only require a single appointment to complete. The overall process is fast and easy. 

The procedure may take longer depending on the material used for the filling, but the general steps include: 

  • Using an anesthetic to numb the affected area
  • Removing the decayed parts of the tooth 
  • Testing the affected area to ensure all decay is gone 
  • Filling the affected area with the chosen material 
  • Finishing and polishing the tooth

Certain materials may require extra steps to harden, shape, or trim the filling. When receiving this treatment, what types of filling materials are available? 

3D illustration of dental fillings showing gold, amalgam and composite inlay fillings

Types of Dental Fillings 

There are many different materials for dental fillings. You can receive gold, silver, or tooth-coloured fillings depending on the look you want. While you have many options, several factors can help determine the best filling for you, including: 

  • The location of the tooth
  • The amount of tooth decay
  • The cost of the material 
  • Your insurance 
  • Your dentist’s recommendation 

Your dentist has your best interests in mind, so bring up any possible questions you may have about the different filling materials. If you have concerns about a particular material, your dentist can recommend a solution you both feel comfortable using. 

Some common filling materials include: 


Dental amalgam fillings are known as silver fillings because of their colour. It’s a commonly used material because of its low cost and durability. Amalgam is usually ideal for molar fillings. 

A mixture of metals, such as mercury, silver, copper and tin, creates this material. While mercury is present in amalgam fillings, it’s not at a level that could be harmful to the average person, and this material is considered safe

However, not everyone can receive amalgam fillings. Some may be ineligible to receive this material because of allergies, lifestyle, or medical conditions. Your dentist will discuss your dental and medical history before determining the best filling for you. 

Some may find amalgam fillings unappealing because of their colour. Silver doesn’t provide the natural look many people desire for their dental filling. 

Composite Resin 

Composite resin is also known as plastic or white filling. While using this material can depend on the location of your cavity, resin filling is a good choice due to its colour, convenience, and cost. 

After removing the cavity’s decay, your dentist places glue on the inside of the tooth’s hole. The composite resin fills this hole in thin layers, each hardened by a special light held over the tooth. After the last layer hardens, your dentist will shape the filling until it feels like a natural tooth

Composite resin fillings have several advantages

  • They cost less than gold fillings
  • They are direct fillings, needing one appointment to complete
  • They are the same colour as natural teeth

Glass Ionomer 

Glass ionomer fillings are a newer type of material. They consist of a mixture of acrylic and a specific type of glass. Typically, this material isn’t ideal for teeth sustaining pressure, such as your molars

Glass ionomer fillings have many benefits: 

  • They’re the same colour as natural teeth
  • They’re easier to place than composite resin fillings 
  • They only require one appointment to fill
  • They contain fluoride 

While this material is weaker than other fillings, glass ionomer is unique because it has fluoride. This dental filling can prevent your tooth from experiencing decay in the future. 


Gold fillings consist of gold, silver, and copper. This material is more durable and stronger than amalgam fillings

To use this material, a dental lab creates a cast gold filling after receiving a model of your tooth. This procedure requires at least two appointments

On the first visit, your dentist will remove the present decay and create your tooth’s cast. On the second visit, they will cement the gold filling in place. 


Ceramic fillings are more stain-resistant than other materials. Porcelain is the usual choice for this material; it’s hard and brittle. A dental lab must create the filling before you can receive it. 

Ceramic fillings have a few advantages

  • They are more stain-resistant 
  • They are the same colour as natural teeth
  • They last a long time

Despite their long-lastingness, ceramic fillings are not the best choice for molars. These fillings can break from the consistent pressure of biting. 

With so many different materials, you may not know what filling you should have. Several factors may influence the best material for the tooth. Your dentist can help you decide on the most effective dental filling. 

Protect Your Teeth From Decay

Dental fillings can help repair the damage tooth decay has caused. Your dentist can help you choose a long-lasting, durable material to help protect your teeth. If you have a cavity and need a filling, contact your dentist and book an appointment. 

Written by Fotini Molnar

Dr. Fotini Molnar started her dental experience working as a dental assistant in a co-op program during high school. She went on to complete her Bachelor of Science, majoring in biotechnology at York University and then obtained her Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) degree from the University of Toronto. Prior to her career in dentistry, Dr. Molnar researched neuroblastoma at Sick Kids Hospital.
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