We’ll probably never find out how much that early ancestor of ours paid for his beeswax filling, but to help you figure out how much the modern equivalent might set you back, we’ve put together a breakdown of filling costs, as well as some other considerations that might help you avoid surprises during your next visit to the dentist.
Just been told I need my first ever tooth filling. What is this?! What are they going to do to me?! pic.twitter.com/p2UllSjwWF
— Katrina Zlateva-Bowles (@gingesince87) January 4, 2018
What are fillings?
A filling is a dental procedure that involves filling in a hole in a tooth to stop pain and return it back to its normal function. According to government website healthdirect, they are designed to repair problem areas caused by decay, cracks, or damage caused by tooth grinding or even by using your teeth to open things such as bottles.
There are four main kinds of fillings used in Australia: composite, amalgam, gold and porcelain.
Composite: Made using a white or tooth-coloured material called resin, this kind of filling is designed to mimic the colour of your tooth and can look more natural, healthdirect says. However, it also explains that this option can be more expensive and, if being used to fill adult back teeth, may not last as long due to the amount of pressure in that part of the mouth where teeith can be packed together tightly. WebMD estimates that composite fillings last around five years.
Amalgam: Amalgam is a metal filling made up of a mixture of tin, silver, copper, zinc and mercury. Though this is a popular option for fillings due to its durability (they can last around 10-15 years, WebMD says), over the years some dentists have been divided on the use of mercury and Amalgam fillings have been banned in some parts of the world, such as Norway, due to health concerns.
Gold: Though one of the more durable options – lasting more than 20 year in some cases – gold fillings have lost popularity in recent times, with cost potentially being a factor. Compared to amalgam, gold is more expensive and it also stands out in the mouth, according to Bupa Dental.
Porcelain: Porcelain is typically used when a large amount of tooth structure is missing. This can include onlay restorations (to cover the tooth ‘cusp’, which is the pointed part of the biting surface of a tooth) and inlay fillings (to fill the area in-between cusps). Porcelain fillings are considered to be about as long-lasting as gold and just as expensive, according to Health Direct.
When deciding what type of filling to use, Perth-based dental clinic Aria Dental says a dentist would typically consider a variety of factors, which can include:
- The amount of healthy tooth structure remaining
- The bonding substrate (i.e. what part of the tooth the filling is being attached too – enamel or dentine)
- Size of the cavity or defect
- Location of the tooth or position of the filling
- The patient’s preference
“Generally, dental ceramic restorations, also known as porcelain fillings, tend to be the most effective option in terms of wear and aesthetics over composite (plastic) and amalgam fillings,” Aria Dental told Canstar.
How much do fillings cost?
The average cost of a filling in Australia averages between $130 and $283, according to the Australian Dental Association. The exact price of a filling can be determined by a variety of factors, which Australian Dentists Clinic says can include:
- The clinic and dentist you choose
- The location of the filling in the mouth
- The extent of the damage that the filling is being used to repair
- The type of filling used
Does private health insurance cover the cost of a filling?
According to Medibank, fillings are covered under ‘General Dental’, which may be a feature of some Extras or combined Hospital & Extras health insurance policies. How much you’ll get back and whether any limits or waiting periods apply will likely depend on your level of cover and what provider you are with.
Does Medicare cover the cost of a filling?
Medicare generally does not cover dental procedures such as fillings. However, as healthdirect explains, Medicare may cover some essential dental services for eligible children through the ‘Child Dental Benefits Schedule’. This pays up to $1,000 over two calendar years for children aged two to 17 for basic dental services including fillings. To see if your child is eligible, visit the Department of Human Services website.
Provided you are eligible, if you wish to go through the public health system as an adult, you may be placed onto a waitlist rather than being seen immediately. To be eligible, adults must generally have a Health Care Card or Centrelink Pensioner Concession Card, healthdirect explains, although the rules vary depending on where you live.
To give you an idea of how long that wait might be, according to the Grattan Institute 9% of people in New South Wales and 25% in South Australia wait over a year for public dental services, which include fillings, extractions and root canal treatments.
Each state and territory has its own specific guidelines when it comes to waiting lists. For example, Queensland Health places fillings under ‘General Care’ which usually sees treatment carried out within a two-year period. According to the New South Wales Government, fillings fall under a ‘Priority’ level of five, for which the maximum wait time is estimated to be 12-months.
Controversy over amalgam fillings
The use of amalgam fillings has proven controversial over the years, due to the inclusion of mercury which can be toxic in high quantities. However, the Australian Dental Association (ADA) has continued its support of amalgam fillings, explaining that the substance “has proved to be a durable, safe and effective material which has been the subject of extensive research over this time.”
That said, the consumer trend appears to be away from the use of amalgam and towards materials that provide a more seamless aesthetic solution.
“Amalgam fillings are not classified as unsafe, however there is an increasing culture and literature against using them,” Aria Dental said. “Ceramic fillings are gaining in popularity due to being a tooth-coloured alternative to an amalgam restoration, and the fact that they also have very good physical properties.”
Aftercare for your fillings
Like the natural part of your tooth, it can be important to take care of your filings they have been added. Bupa Dental advises patients not to eat or drink until the anesthetic has worn off and explains that sensitivity to hot and cold drinks may last up to a few days after the procedure. If something doesn’t feel right, see your dentist immediately, it says.
The Australian Dental Association of Western Australia (ADAWA) advises that to avoid cracks appearing in the filling and bacteria developing, regularly visiting your dentist is important.
Finally, Aria Dental says that caring for your mouth (and perhaps avoiding the need for more fillings in the future) is similar to looking after a garden. Once work is carried out to fix things up, the weeds can start to grow back the very next day, so ongoing maintenance can be key.
“It’s about routine and regularly keeping it in check by brushing and flossing your teeth every 12 hours, drinking lots of water, limiting foods high in sugar, limiting your daily snacking between brushing and of course visiting your dentist regularly.”