Dental fillings | Better Health Channel
Better Health Channel on twitter Connect with us via Twitter and share Australia's best health and medical info with those close to you
Close survey
Dental fillings

Summary

Dental fillings are used to repair teeth and treat tooth decay. Usually, either amalgam (‘silver’) or tooth-coloured fillings are used. Modern amalgam fillings are long-lasting, cheap and safe for most people. However, suitable alternatives are recommended for use during pregnancy, breastfeeding, for children and people with kidney disease.

Download the PDF version of this fact sheet Email this fact sheet

Dental fillings are used to repair worn or damaged teeth and treat tooth decay.

Dental amalgam is a strong, inexpensive, silver-coloured material routinely used for filling teeth. In recent years, alternative tooth-coloured filling materials have also become more common and affordable.

It is important to remember that cleaning your teeth regularly and having a healthy diet can help to prevent dental decay and avoid the need for fillings. Regular dental check-ups will make sure any problems are identified and treated early.

Fillings are used to treat decay


When filling a tooth that has decay, a dentist or other oral health (dental) professional uses a drill and other instruments to remove the decay. The hole is cleaned and dried, and then sealed with a filling material.

Common types of filling material include:
  • dental amalgam fillings (also known as ‘silver’ fillings)
  • tooth-coloured fillings.
Other forms of tooth repair, such as gold fillings or ceramic crowns, are more expensive alternatives to amalgam and tooth-coloured filling materials.

Dental amalgam in fillings


Dental amalgam is commonly used for filling teeth, especially those that are subject to a lot of wear and tear, such as the molars (back teeth).

Modern dental amalgam is a metal alloy (metal mixture), generally made up of mercury, silver and tin, with small amounts of copper and zinc. It is can be easily moulded into the hole in the tooth, so less of the natural tooth needs to be removed in order to fit the filling.

Tooth-coloured fillings


Tooth-coloured fillings have been used in front teeth for cosmetic reasons for many years. Recent improvements have made tooth-coloured fillings more affordable, and they are often used as an alternative to dental amalgam. However, tooth-coloured fillings may not always be suitable. For example, the filling material may not be the best choice for a large filling in a back tooth.

Mercury in dental amalgam

Some people are concerned about the use of dental amalgam because it contains mercury. While high levels of mercury are harmful to human health, the level of ‘free’ mercury (mercury that could get into the body) in set amalgam fillings is so small that it is not enough to have any effect on health.


Repeated international reviews of the scientific evidence have been unable to link the use of dental amalgam directly with ill health. The current advice from the National Health and Medical Research Council (AHMRC) in Australia is that, for most people, these very low levels of mercury exposure will not affect their general health. There is also no clinical evidence to support any connection between amalgam fillings and cancer.

Some European countries, such as Sweden, have been trying to phase out the use of amalgam dental fillings for environmental reasons. Although mercury occurs naturally in the environment, incorrect disposal of materials like dental amalgam can add to mercury levels in the environment that build up in the food chain.

People who are advised to avoid getting new amalgam fillings or having existing ones removed or replaced (where possible) include:

  • Pregnant women – mercury may cross the placenta and enter the bloodstream of the fetus.
  • Women who are breastfeeding – mercury may be passed to the baby through breastmilk.
  • Children – growing and developing teeth are more sensitive to the effects of any chemical substances in the environment, including mercury.
  • People with kidney disease – high levels of mercury exposure can affect the kidneys, so exposure to mercury should be minimised for people with kidney disease.
While there is currently no scientific evidence directly linking amalgam with either poor health or birth defects, these recommendations are made as a precaution.

All children aged 12 years and under, are eligible for priority public oral health services. Children receive general oral health advice, as well as dental check-ups and treatment. For eligibility, contact Dental Health Services Victoria.

Replacing amalgam fillings


Deciding to have your amalgam fillings replaced is your choice. You should discuss the options with your dentist or other oral health (dental) professional.

Things you should know if you are thinking about having amalgam fillings replaced include:
  • Replacement can be expensive.
  • Replacing a filling often causes more of the natural tooth to be lost.
  • Mercury levels rise in the body immediately after an amalgam filling is replaced, due to handling of the amalgam.
During replacement of your amalgam filling, exposure to mercury can be reduced by:
  • using a rubber shielding device called a ‘dental dam’
  • using extra suction during the removal
  • the oral health professional cutting away the amalgam filling, rather than drilling it out.

Where to get help

  • Your dentist or other oral health professional
  • Your doctor
  • Your public oral health service
  • Community dental clinic Tel. 1300 360 054
  • The Royal Dental Hospital Melbourne, general dental enquiries Tel. (03) 9341 1000 or 1800 833 039 (from rural Victoria) Monday to Friday, 8:30 am to 5 pm, emergency service Tel. 1300 360 054 Monday to Friday 8.30 am to 9.15 pm; weekends and public holidays, 9 am to 9.15 pm
  • Dental Health Services Victoria Tel. 1300 360 054

Things to remember

  • Modern dental amalgam is a strong, inexpensive material, which is used to repair teeth and safe for most people.
  • Other filling materials are also available. Discuss your treatment choices with your oral health professional.
  • A healthy diet and regular brushing can prevent the need for fillings in teeth.

You might also be interested in:

Want to know more?

Go to More information for support groups, related links and references.


This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:

The Dental Health Services Victoria logo - links to further information

(Logo links to further information)


The Dental Health Services Victoria logo - links to further information

Last reviewed: December 2014

Content on this website is provided for education and information purposes only. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your doctor or other registered health professional. Content has been prepared for Victorian residents and wider Australian audiences, and was accurate at the time of publication. Readers should note that, over time, currency and completeness of the information may change. All users are urged to always seek advice from a registered health care professional for diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.


If you would like to link to this fact sheet on your website, simply copy the code below and add it to your page:

<a href="http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Dental_fillings?open">Dental fillings - Better Health Channel</a><br/>
Dental fillings are used to repair teeth and treat tooth decay. Usually, either amalgam (‘silver’) or tooth-coloured fillings are used. Modern amalgam fillings are long-lasting, cheap and safe for most people. However, suitable alternatives are recommended for use during pregnancy, breastfeeding, for children and people with kidney disease.



Content on this website is provided for education and information purposes only. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your qualified health professional. Content has been prepared for Victorian residence and wider Australian audiences, and was accurate at the time of publication. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users are urged to always seek advice from a qualified health care professional for diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

For the latest updates and more information, visit www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au

Copyight © 1999/2014  State of Victoria. Reproduced from the Better Health Channel (www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au) at no cost with permission of the Victorian Minister for Health. Unauthorised reproduction and other uses comprised in the copyright are prohibited without permission.

footer image for printing