Feel in the dark about upcoming composite fillings?

Fillings for teeth can be quite daunting when you’re not sure what’s going on and why. There are likely to be many unanswered questions you didn’t have time to ask your dentist when your head went to mush. How long will it take? Will it be sore? What’s the procedure? In fact, what actually is composite?

The more you understand about the treatment, the more you’ll realise there’s nothing to worry about. It’s straight forward and simple. If you’re looking for a one-stop shop to explain what composite fillings are and answer the most common questions you’re in the right place.

We’re going to find out everything you could possibly want to know about composite fillings in this article.

photo of a composite filling

What actually is composite?

Without getting too technical, composite fillings are a tooth coloured resin material. There are two main components mixed together, a resin and a filler.

Think of it like making porridge. The oats are the filler and milk is the resin. The more milk you add the runnier the porridge becomes. Composite comes in the tube as either a thick, plasticine-like material that you can use for areas that need strength or as a liquid which you can use for front teeth. The proportions of this resin and filler are what determines the viscosity.

The beauty of this means it can be used for lots of different things.

What does a composite filling look like?

Before it’s put in your mouth it’s usually plasticine like putty.

We then place it in your mouth and after we’ve finished it just looks like a tooth. Once it’s in the mouth when it’s set you may not even notice its there.

See if you can spot where the tooth finishes and the composite starts on the photo above.

What can composite be used for?

Composite fillings are incredibly versatile.

They can be used to fill a tooth that’s decayed, fix chips on front teeth, build up worn teeth from grinding or erosion, create beautiful veneers or edge bond to change the shape or size of teeth. They’re also a great alternative to replace amalgam.

How long does a composite filling take?

clock illustrating how long it takes to do a composite filling

It depends on what you’re having done, but generally, a composite filling takes longer than other types of fillings.

There are several stages, including a ‘shampoo’ and ‘conditioning’ stage before the composite is placed.

They’re also placed in layers, and each layer is set separately.

Then finally they must be polished and buffed at the end to make them blend into your natural teeth.

This all adds time.

A small, straight forward chip may only take 20 minutes to repair.

However, a bespoke handcrafted composite veneer may take an hour, for example.

How much do composite fillings cost?

This will depend on whether you’re using the NHS service or private dentistry.

On the NHS

An NHS composite filling is there to ensure your tooth is healthy. The composite material will be of standard quality and give an acceptable appearance. Generally, composite fillings are only completed on teeth visible when you smile under the NHS.

If you want a composite that will do the job and look fine then go for this budget option.

NHS composite fillings at the time of writing this (January 2019) cost £59.10.

Privately placed composites

Private composite fillings are a class above in terms of aesthetics.

Your dentist is free to use superior composite filling material and has much more time to achieve a strikingly good end result.

If you’re looking for beautiful front composite fillings that blend into your teeth, or an invisible back tooth composite filling then opt for this option.

Private composite fillings start from as little as £70 for a small chip or a few hundred for hand-crafted veneers and bonding.

There are no demands from the NHS to see a number of patients per day and there is no tight budget.

Your dentist can use better materials and take their time to produce a filling which looks like a real tooth, even using white fillings on your back teeth.

Like anything in life, you get what you pay for.

What’s the procedure to get it done?

counting 1 2 3

So you’ve just finished your checkup. Your dentist has taken some x-rays, said some random numbers and letters to their nurse and turns to you and says “You need a filling…”.

Now what?

Composite fillings are normally completed at a separate appointment to give your dentist time to do it properly and give you a great result.

You may or may not need anaesthetic depending on the size of the filling. If it’s small you may get away with it, but during the procedure, there’s a lot of washing and drying of your tooth. This can be sensitive, so I’d usually recommend you opt for a little anaesthetic to take the edge off just in case.

Here are the 5 stages of a composite filling procedure:

Stage 1 – Decay is removed and the cavity shaped so its ready for the filling.

Stage 2 – Etch (shampoo) is placed over the area were going to stick the composite filling and then rinsed off.

Stage 3 – Bond layer (conditioner) is placed. This acts like an undercoat and increases the sticking strength of the composite to your tooth. It’s set with a blue light.

Stage 4 –  Composite layers are added and these are each set with the blue light. The composite filling setting time is just 30 seconds.

Stage 5 – The filling is polished and finished it to make it shiny and blended in.

If you opt for a private composite filling, your dentist is likely to place a sheet over the teeth they’re filling. Composite fillings don’t like moisture and this helps keep your saliva away.

Does the filling match with your other teeth?

The beauty of composite fillings is they come in many shades.

Like an artist mixes pain, these shades can be mixed and blended together to match your tooth pretty accurately, in a skilled dentist’s hands.

Do composite fillings hurt?

There are usually two times that patients ask if it’ll hurt.

Before we start for the actual procedure, and after it’s finished and the anaesthetic has worn off, so let’s look at them both.

During the composite filling, I’d advise using anaesthetic if decay removal is needed. If you do opt for local anaesthetic you will not feel pain during the filling.

What you will feel may be the sensation of the water and the air blowing around your mouth. You may also feel the rumbling if the cavity needs decay removing. This is completely normal and nothing to worry about.

When the composite filling is finished and the local anaesthetic wears off, it’s normal for the tooth to feel slightly sensitive, even for a few weeks. You can use sensitive toothpaste which will help settle everything down. It may feel a bit alien and your tongue will point out every difference from before, but give it a few days and it’ll feel part of you again.

How long do composite fillings last?

Everything in life has an expiry date and it’s no different with composite fillings.

Generally, a composite filling life span of between 5-7 years is normal, but we do see them last much longer than that.

However, the beauty of composite fillings is they can be repaired and added to easily. This means if a piece breaks, we can simply add it back in instead of replacing the whole thing.

Are there any pitfalls?

picture of a man falling into a pit

There are a few potential disadvantages of a composite filling vs amalgam, but if managed well they are generally not a problem.

Composite fillings mustn’t have any contamination by water. If saliva touches it before setting it will fail, so the use of the rubber sheets to isolate the tooth and avoid contamination may be required.

One unavoidable factor is extra time in the dental chair. As we’ve said, composites need to be placed in layers and polished. If you want a quick job, then opt for amalgam.

It used to be that composites were less durable, but modern materials and techniques have improved them immensely.

Done properly, privately they are also more expensive than amalgam but you are paying for discretion.

And to finish…

Remember every composite is different and what worked for your colleague at the office may not work for you.

Always ask your dentist any questions or if you need further information on a composite filling specifically for yourself.

They’ll be more than happy to answer them and help you with whatever you need to know.


AUTHOR

Dr Gareth Edwards Dentist AuthorDr Gareth Edwards BDS (Hons) MFDS RCPS (Glasg) qualified as a dentist with honours and practices in the Bournemouth and Poole area. He has a keen interest in aesthetic dentistry and orthodontics and is a certified Invisalign and Six Month Smiles provider. For more information click here.

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