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Understanding the Types of Fillings Used in Cavities

Dental cavities, also known as caries, are the most common chronic disease among kids between 6-19 years. If you have tooth decay that’s led to a cavity, it’s important to get it filled by your dentist. Untreated caries can cause pain and lead to infections in both the teeth and the gums.

At Higgins Dental in Jacksonville, Florida, Dr. Marcus Higgins, Dr. Linda White, and our expert team have years of experience dealing with all manner of oral health issues, including cavities. What you may not know, though, is that not all fillings are created equal. Here’s what the practice wants you to know about the types and uses of dental fillings.

How do you fill a cavity?

Fillings are most commonly used to plug a hole caused by decay in one or more teeth, but they can also be used to repair part of a tooth that’s been broken or repair damage caused by tooth grinding, also known as bruxism.

We may need to take an X-ray of the affected tooth/teeth to see exactly how big the hole is and if any of the inner tooth structures are affected. Then we give you a local anaesthetic to numb your teeth and the surrounding gums, so you won’t feel a thing during the procedure.

Next, we drill out the decayed portion, making sure the hole is clean and doesn’t have any sharp edges and choose the proper filling material for the affected tooth and seal the hole. Finally, we smooth down any rough edges and check your bite to make sure it feels normal.

What are the different types and uses of dental fillings?

As technology has advanced, the variety of fillings has expanded. Our team chooses the filling type based on the amount of damage to your tooth, where the cavity is located, and how expensive the material is. Some types include:


Amalgam is what most people think of as the “typical” filling. As its name suggests, the fillings are made of a mixture of metals — usually about 50% mercury combined with copper, silver, tin, and/or zinc. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), this type of filling has been in use for more than 150 years.

The main advantages of amalgam fillings is that they’re not terribly expensive, and they’re strong and long-lasting. However, there are some disadvantages. First, they’re silver in color and become darker over time, which means they’re very visible when you smile. Today, they’re mostly used on back teeth so they won’t be seen.

And second, while the FDA has determined that the amount of mercury (a dangerous substance) contained in the filling is safe for anyone over six years old, you may not want to be exposed to it at all.


Composite is usually made from a combination of powdered glass and acrylic resin. Unlike amalgam, though, we can shade it to match the surrounding teeth, making it much less conspicuous. As most people want their smiles to look as natural as possible, the use of composite has increased.

Composite, though, isn’t always the right choice. The materials used are less durable than the metals found in amalgam, which means the filling’s lifetime is shorter. It’s also not appropriate for large fillings. It’s best suited for small fillings and for teeth that undergo moderate pressure during chewing, as too much pressure can crack the materials.


Gold fillings, which are referred to as inlays or onlays, are made from an alloy of gold, copper, and other metals. They are extremely durable, with the American Dental Association noting that they can last for over two decades. However, they’re also the priciest of fillings. They’re usually used for patching small cavities, and since they have to be made in a dental laboratory, they usually require two or more office visits to be placed.


Also known as inlays or onlays, porcelain fillings are similar to gold in that they need to be made in a dental laboratory, require multiple office visits, and tend to cost a lot. But they can be shaded to match the surrounding teeth, and they resist stains, giving you a more natural appearance.

Do you have a cavity to be filled? Discuss your options with our dentists at your appointment. To schedule, call us at 904-201-2847 or book online.

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