Having a cavity filled is one of the most common and simplest dental procedures, but not all fillings are alike. Composite resin, a plastic-based, tooth-colored material, is used for many fillings on front teeth, while silver amalgam is more common for back teeth. Ceramic porcelain inlays can be made to match teeth that won't work well with composite, but tend to be more costly. Both have a similar life span, though ceramic fillings can be brittle and may suffer damage more easily.
Composite resin fillings are made up of a mixture of fine glass particles and a very hard plastic resin. The dentist usually hardens them in place using a special light. Ceramic fillings are usually made from fired porcelain and may also be called inlays. They are less likely to stain than composite fillings and can be made to match your tooth color exactly, but may wear opposing teeth due to their very hard surface.
Tooth-colored composite fillings cost between $90 and $250 for one to two surfaces and $150 to $300 for multiple surfaces, according to Cost Helper as of publication time. Porcelain inlays, which require much more labor to produce, cost considerably more than composites. According to the Consumer Guide to Dentistry, porcelain inlays can cost anywhere between $250 and $1,500, depending on the extent of the decay and the difficulty of the application.
You can expect a resin filling to last for at least five years. Some can last for up to 10 years, but most will need to be replaced before this time due to cracking, discoloration or other problems. Ceramic fillings tend to last between five and seven years and are very strong, but they can also be brittle. Porcelain inlays may crack or split if you bite down on something very hard, such as a piece of metal or an unexpected stone.
Dentists apply composite resin fillings in either one or two sessions, depending on whether the filling is direct or indirect. Both types require the dentist to remove only the decayed part of the tooth, but direct fillings are hardened with a bright blue light, while indirect fillings are made from impressions and cemented in. Applying porcelain inlays works much like applying an indirect composite filling, but the dentist must remove more of the tooth for this type of filling, since the inlay must be relatively large to prevent breakage.
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