How does a dentist fill a cavity?

A tooth requires a filling, or directly placed restoration, due to decay, wear, fracture, or a combination of these problems.

The decay is removed, and the remaining tooth structure is carefully shaped in an effort to allow for retention of the filling, resistance to fracture and avoidance of decay that may recur in the future.

The filling material of choice is then carefully placed into the tooth to restore form and function. Directly placed filling materials are usually tooth colored composite resin or silver amalgam. As indicated, liners and sealers may be placed on the tooth prior to the filling material in an effort to protect the tooth and minimize sensitivity.

In most cases the patient will be given local anesthesia so that the procedure can be as comfortable as possible

If you have a cavity, your dentist will make you comfortable by first applying a numbing gel to your gum and then by numbing your tooth. It will take a few minutes for the numbing medicine to work. Your lip and cheek will tingle and feel big. Once the tooth is numb, your dentist will remove the decay with a dental hand piece. You will hear a whistling sound, and there will be small vibrations on your tooth. Once the decay has been removed, a filling will be placed. If you have a tooth colored filling, a small light will be used to cure and harden the filling. After the filling has been placed your dentist will check the filling and make sure that the bite is okay. If the bite is high, your dentist will adjust the filling. The numbing medicine will wear out after several hours.

You may dread having a cavity filled, but the process really isn't very scary.

Before placing a filling, your dentist usually will numb the area around the tooth that needs to be filled so you won't feel any pain during the procedure.

Then, your dentist will use a drill or other tool to remove the decay inside your tooth, leaving an open hole. The area will be cleaned, and your dentist will use a filling material, which may be made from gold, amalgam (silver-colored filling material), tooth-colored plastic or other materials.

Finally, your dentist will smooth down the tooth to make the filling is less noticeable. If the filling was made from a tooth-colored material, you will barely notice it. 
Jonathan B. Levine, DMD
Cavities are caused by plaque.  Plaque causes decay and decay creates a hole in the tooth, which explains why they are called cavities. Whether the decay is new or buried under an old restoration, it needs to be removed, which is done with a dentist’s drill. The most common sites for decay occur in the contact area, at the cusp of the tooth or near the gum line or the root. If it’s near the root, the dentist may first put in a liner of glass ionomer, composite resin or other material to protect the nerve. If necessary, you may also be given an anesthetic.

Once the decay’s been cleaned out of a cavity, the dentist evaluates how much of the tooth is left, and that determines what kind of restoration he’ll put in there. The type of restoration used also depends on its location. For example, if it’s in the aesthetic zone (the most visible front part of the smile), it needs to look natural and blended in. If it’s in the back of the mouth, it needs to be strong and durable. 
Smile!: The Ultimate Guide to Achieving Smile Beauty

More About this Book

Smile!: The Ultimate Guide to Achieving Smile Beauty

Renowned dentist and creator of the GoSMILE product line Dr. Levine offers this complete guide to getting a whiter, brighter smile. 15 photos & illustrations.

Continue Learning about Cavities


Cavities are tiny holes in your teeth that have developed from decay. Left untreated, cavities will get larger, and can cause toothache and possible loss of teeth. Anybody can get a cavity, but you put yourself at greater risk if ...

you don't brush regularly, or frequently consume sweets or sugary drinks. Your dentist can help prevent cavities with fluoride treatments, and can find them by taking pictures (X-rays) of the teeth. Once found, the dentist may treat your cavity with a filling or if extensive, with a crown. If there has been an extensive infection, other treatments, including antibiotics or a root canal surgery may be indicated.

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.