Why Dental Fillings?
Most people do their best to take care of their teeth to prevent decay. Unfortunately, even with regular brushing and flossing, cavities sometimes happen anyway. A cavity is an infection in your tooth; the bacteria produce acids that eat away at the tooth enamel, causing a hole to form in the surface of the tooth. Your genetics, diet, and the particular mix of normal bacteria growing in your mouth (yes, we all have them!) all affect your chances of getting a cavity.
Cavities often hurt. In addition to the pain, they look very unsightly. A smile with even one decaying tooth visible can damage your self-esteem and make you reluctant to smile. Even worse, cavities tend to continue growing until they’re filled. If you ignore a cavity, the infection could get big enough to become an abscess. In some cases, the bacteria can even spread to your bloodstream and lead to severe illness. So you really don’t want to wait to have your cavities filled.
You have two main choices in the material used to fill a cavity. Amalgam is the less expensive choice; it looks like metal. A composite filling costs a little more, but is the same color as the tooth. Many dentists no longer perform fillings using amalgam. To learn more about fillings, visit our Dental Fillings page in our Education Wiki.
The cost of the filling depends on whether you choose amalgam or composite as the filling material. An amalgam filling typically costs $50 to $300, depending on how large the filling is and how many tooth surfaces are involved. A composite filling is about 50% more, at $90 to $450, again depending on how large.
Typically, the tooth filling itself takes place in one dental office visit; if you have more than one cavity, you can usually have more than one filling done at a time. However, most dentists require a separate examination visit before performing the filling(s), which will cost an additional $20 to $100. Dental X-rays may also be required; see our Dental X-Rays Cost page for more details.
Keep in mind that this is only an average; it varies by region and by individual dentist, so you should check with the dentist(s) you’re considering to determine their exact fee for the procedure. Ask what’s included in that fee, to make sure you aren’t surprised by extra costs when you get the bill later.
Will Insurance Cover It?
Because the filling of cavities is considered a necessary procedure, dental insurance companies typically cover all or part of the cost. If you’re choosing a composite filling instead of amalgam, it may be considered “cosmetic,” and you’ll be expected to pay the difference in cost between your composite filling and an amalgam filling. The examination cost is usually fully or partially covered, and the cost of X-rays is often covered as well. You should call your insurance company to determine your coverage, or ask for help from the staff at the dental office; they’re used to dealing with insurance companies and can help you accurately determine your coverage.
Medical insurance typically does not cover dentistry at all. You need to have a separate dental insurance plan to cover dental care.
To many people, paying hundreds or thousands of dollars up front seems impossible. However, if you don’t already have the money saved, you have many options available for financing. In some cases, dentists offer financing plans for their patients. You can also get a medical credit card or other credit card, often with an attractive introductory interest rate; a medical loan, personal loan, or home equity loan from your bank; a loan from your 401(k); or loans or gifts from family and friends. Even if your credit isn’t great, you’d be surprised how many options you have. For more details about the financing options for your procedure, check out our Dentistry Financing page.