When you get a cavity, a filling is the best way to seal the gap after the damaged enamel and dentin are removed. 

While these fillings may last a long time, they can’t last forever. 

The material used for the procedure largely determines how long a particular filling will last. However, your own eating habits, dental hygiene, and other factors will determine the total lifespan. 

This means there are a few things you can do to extend the lifespan of your dental work regardless of the material.

Dental filling before and after at Bunker Hill Dentistry
Dental Filling | Before (left) and After (right)

How Long Do Fillings Normally Last?

Depending on the material and how well it is treated, dental fillings can last anywhere from 5 to 30 years. That’s quite a range, and the style of filling used largely determines it. A general expectation is about 10 to 15 years with good care, but some fillings may not last even that long. 

Use the following information as a guide for how long you can expect a new or replacement filling to last.

How Often Do Composite Fillings Need To Be Replaced?

Composite fillings are popular for their tooth-matching appearance. They’re also slightly easier to apply than ceramic fillings, allowing for more complicated placement. However, they have an average lifespan of only 7 to 8 years. This is due to wear and tear on the material as well as the risk of bonding loss with the tooth.

How Often Do Ceramic Fillings Need To Be Replaced?

Ceramic fillings blend in with your smile’s natural color. They also last longer than composite fillings, offering an average lifespan of around 10 to 15 years. Depending on the complexity of the filling, it may last even longer with proper care. The ceramic material is more resistant to wear and can last nearly as long as a more visible metal filling.

How Often Do Silver Amalgam Fillings Need To Be Replaced?

Classic silver amalgam fillings don’t blend in, but they conform well in unusual spots and bond tightly to the tooth. This gives them a lifespan of around 15 years or longer. It’s not unheard of for these fillings to reach 20 years of use before needing replacement.

How Often Do Cast Gold Fillings Need To Be Replaced?

Cast gold fillings are some of the longest-lasting options, ranging from 20 to 30 years of service in many cases. The soft metal stays tightly conformed to the shape of your tooth, reducing both the chances of further decay and sudden loss.

How Often Do Glass Ionomer Fillings Need To Be Replaced?

Glass ionomer fillings are unique in that they can reduce tooth decay chances where they are placed, making them a good choice for deep and complicated fillings. However, the material is somewhat fragile and tends to need replacement every 5 to 7 years. It’s the shortest-lasting filling material in general, but it may offer benefits in specific scenarios where other fillings would not work as well.

What Other Factors Affect the Lifespan of a Filling?

How you treat your fillings and teeth in general will also determine the total lifespan before replacement is needed. 

Your eating habits are the biggest consideration. Chewing on tough, hard, chewy, or crunchy foods will add more wear and tear to the fillings. Poor dental hygiene habits like forgetting to brush and floss will also put the filling at risk before its usual lifespan has passed.

Less common issues can also shorten the lifespan of a filling. Trauma from accidents or sports injuries is always possible, even if you’re using a mouthguard. Grinding your teeth at night also shortens the lifespan of all filling materials. Having a nightguard fitted is the best way to protect your dental work.

How Do You Know If Your Filling Needs To Be Replaced?

While some filling materials may last longer than others, here are the signs to look for that your filling needs to be replaced:

Cracks in Dental Filling

Visible cracks in dental fillings are never a good thing. If you’re brushing or flossing and notice damage to your filling, visit your dentist right away to have it repaired. Biting too hard or chewing on something sticky can cause the material in your filling to crack, or it can occur due to age and normal wear. It’s harder to spot cracks in metal fillings, but they’re also less likely to experience them.

Tooth Pain & Sensitivity

Any new sensitivity in a tooth with a filling warrants investigation from a dentist. It may indicate the filling is loose, has become damaged, or that decay is continuing underneath it. Prompt attention to a twinge when you drink cold beverages or eat hot foods will help you restore the filling as easily as possible.

Filling Discoloration

Fillings can change color over time. Leakages caused by not being sealed correctly, decay under the filling, staining, and poor oral hygiene can all contribute to a filling’s discoloration. While your dentist should pick up on these during regular dental visits, sudden discoloration requires an immediate dental appointment.

Tooth Filling Damage & Injury

Fillings can come loose and move around or fall out entirely. If your tooth is injured and the filling seems like it’s still in place, it’s likely in need of replacement once the tooth has been stabilized. Expect to get new fillings when recovering from trauma or injury that has affected multiple teeth to ensure they’re not lost later.

With regular dental checkups, your dentist can often spot any problems with a filling before you notice the symptoms. Don’t wait until you detect an issue with your fillings to see the dentist.

How Many Times Can You Replace a Filling?

There’s no set number of replacements per tooth. Consider that each time a filling is placed, more tooth material is removed to accommodate it. When too much natural tooth structure has been removed, an alternative is needed to close the gap. 

This could be a root canal or crown, or it could be a dental implant that replaces the entire tooth

. However, most people can have their fillings replaced multiple times over the course of their life without issue. The key is catching cavities early so very little material must be removed during the first filling procedure. 

Advanced damage will make it harder to replace fillings down the road.

How To Make Dental Fillings Last Longer

Catch cavities early and limit their growth with a good dental routine:

  • Daily brushing and flossing.
  • Avoid chewing challenging foods that could damage the materials and don’t chew ice or pens.
  • Get dental checkups every six months.
  • Choose a durable filling material whenever possible for a longer lifespan.
Read the Bunker Hill Dentistry Caring for Teeth Guide. A routine that looks after your natural teeth will also help maximize the lifespan of a filling.

Make an Appointment To Replace Your Dental Filling

If you need a filling replaced or are considering your options for tooth decay treatment, get in touch with us here at Bunker Hill Dentistry in Houston.

Learn more about our approach to dental fillings and our full service options for treating cavities.