How much does it cost to get a tooth filling in Australia?

NICOLA FIELD
Personal Finance Writer · 13 September 2021
There can’t be too many of us that enjoy lying back in the chair while the dentist probes away with a drill. In fact, one in six Australian adults have dental phobia. And it’s not always the physical discomfort of fillings that we worry about. Fixing a cavity may relieve your tooth pain but it can drill a hole in your hip pocket. We look at how much a filling costs – plus ways to save.

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Here’s a fact you might not know about dental fillings: Scientists believe the earliest one was carried out more than 6,500 years ago, using beeswax. Another filling fact you might not know is the cost of getting one done today.

We’ll probably never find out how much our early ancestors paid for beeswax fillings. 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.

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.

 

Cost Of A Filling
Source: Aleksandra Gigowska (Shutterstock)

There are four main kinds of fillings used in Australia: composite, amalgam, glass-ionomer cement and gold or 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 teeth can be packed together tightly. As a guide, composite fillings can last around five to seven years.

Amalgam: Amalgam is a metal filling made up of a mixture of tin, silver, copper, zinc and mercury. This is a popular option for fillings due to its durability – they can last around 10-15 years.  However, due to health and environmental concerns, amalgam fillings have been restricted in some parts of the world, and the European Commission has launched a plan to phase out the use of dental amalgam by 2030.

Glass-ionomer cement: According to healthdirect, glass-ionomer cement can also be matched to tooth colour, though it may not be as long-lasting as composite resin. That being the case, it’s usually used in areas where there is not much biting force and on baby teeth.

Gold and porcelain: Both very durable options, porcelain has the advantage that fillings can be matched to the tooth colour. Porcelain is also more likely to be used where a part of the tooth is missing. Gold on the other hand, is hard to disguise – and though it’s fallen out of favour in recent years, back in the day, world heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson sported several gold teeth. Understandably, gold and porcelain are at the more expensive end of the price spectrum according to healthdirect, though if your gold filling falls out, you may always have the option of melting it down and giving it a new life as a piece of jewellery.

When deciding what type of filling to use, dentists will consider the strength requirements and the way your teeth bite together.

How much do fillings cost?

According to a recent national dental fee survey, a simple filling can cost up to $275, while a more complex filling can cost up to $475. However, a variety of factors can shape the cost to get a tooth filled including your choice of dentist, the location of the tooth and damage, and the amount of time it takes to repair the tooth.

Does private health insurance cover the cost of a filling?

Medicare does not cover the costs of most dental services, so keeping your smile white and bright can mean footing the cost of getting a tooth filled yourself or relying on your private health insurance.

According to Medibank, trips to the dentist for examinations, scale and clean, surgical extractions and fillings are included in all Medibank extras cover options. 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. This can make dental insurance worth a look.

Does Medicare cover the cost of a filling?

As we noted, Medicare generally does not cover dental procedures such as fillings. However, there can be exceptions. As healthdirect explains, Medicare can cover you for the cost of:

Child Dental Benefits Schedule:This pays $1,013 over two calendar years for children aged two to 17 for basic dental services, including dental check-ups, x-rays, cleaning, sealing cracked teeth, fillings, root canals and extractions. It does not cover orthodontic or cosmetic dental work or any dental care provided in hospital.

These services should be bulk-billed at participating dental surgeries, so you don’t pay anything. The catch is that it’s only available to families receiving other government benefits, such as Family Tax Benefit.

Public dental services: Each state and territory provides public dental services both for children and adults. Adults generally need to have a Health Care Card or Centrelink Pensioner Concession Card to be eligible, though the rules vary depending on where you live. The big drawback is that you may have to wait up to a year or more to see a dentist. By that time a simple filling may have morphed into something more serious like a tooth extraction.

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.”

Amalgam Filling Controversy
Source: Alex Mit (Shutterstock)

That said, the consumer trend appears to be moving away from the use of amalgam and towards materials that provide a more aesthetic solution.

Aftercare for your fillings

A filling can be a great investment in your overall oral health. Once you’ve paid the dentist, you want to keep your filling in great shape.

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.

On average, Bupa Dental says fillings should last around 12 years. It’s not a bad innings for a tiny fragment of material tucked into your tooth – and it’s probably a much longer timeframe than our ancestors enjoyed with their beeswax fillings.

Cover image source: Africa Studio/Shutterstock.com


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This content was reviewed by Milan Cuk as part of our fact-checking process.


Nicola is a personal finance writer with nearly two decades of industry experience. A former chartered accountant, who holds a Bachelor of Commerce and a Master of Education degree, Nicola has contributed to several popular magazines including the Australian Women’s Weekly, Money and Real Living.

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