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Are fillings tooth colored now?

Dental fillings have come a long way over the years. In the past, metal amalgam fillings were the go-to choice for restoring teeth. But thanks to advances in dental materials, tooth colored fillings are now the standard for a natural looking, long-lasting repair.

The Evolution of Tooth Colored Fillings

The development of tooth colored dental fillings was a game changer for cosmetic dentistry. Let’s look at a brief history of how we got to where we are today with natural looking fillings that blend seamlessly into your smile.

Amalgam Fillings

For over a century, amalgam fillings were the filling of choice for dentists. Amalgam is a mixture of metals that includes silver, tin, copper, and mercury. This material is inexpensive, durable, and easy to work with. However, amalgam fillings have two major drawbacks:

  • They have a silver or grey color that stands out from the natural tooth.
  • Many patients prefer to avoid mercury exposure from the fillings.

Tooth Colored Acrylics

In the 1950s and 60s, dental acrylics that could be matched to the color of teeth became available. These tooth colored materials offered a more discreet filling option. However, they lacked the strength and longevity of amalgam fillings of the same era. Acrylic fillings tended to wear down quickly and require replacement in just a few years.

Composite Resin Fillings

Composite resin fillings were introduced in dentistry in the 1960s. They offered the ideal combination of improved aesthetics with mechanical strength similar to amalgam fillings. Modern composite resins are composed of:

  • Filler particles like quartz or silica
  • A polymer resin binder like bis-GMA
  • A coupling agent that binds the particles and resin together

By weight, composite resin dental fillings are composed of about 75% filler particles bound in a 25% polymer matrix. Their tooth-like shade mimics the natural color of teeth. When properly bonded to etched enamel, composite resin fillings are very durable and can last 10-15 years or longer with good oral care.

Glass Ionomer Cement

Glass ionomer cement was introduced as a filling material in the 1970s. It bonds chemically to dental tissues. The original glass ionomer fillings lacked strength, but modern resin-modified glass ionomers approach the durability of composite resin fillings. They are translucent and naturally mimic the tooth shade.

Ceramic Fillings

Ceramic dental fillings provide the most lifelike appearance and are nearly indistinguishable from natural teeth. Porcelain and ceramic compounds like leucite, lithium disilicate, and zirconia have exceptional strength and resistance to fracture. The trade-off is that ceramic fillings require more removal of natural tooth structure to allow for proper bonding.

Tooth Colored Filling Materials

Today’s dentists have several tooth colored choices for filling cavities. The most common options include:

Composite Resin

Composite resin is the most ubiquitous tooth colored filling material used by dentists today. It combines excellent aesthetics, ease of application, good physical properties, and moderate cost. Composite resin fillings are suitable for both front and back teeth.

Glass Ionomer Cement

Glass ionomer cement is primarily used for small non-load bearing fillings. Its main advantages are its natural tooth color and ability to release fluoride for an anti-cavity effect. Glass ionomer fillings are also used as a base or liner under other filling types.

Resin-Modified Glass Ionomer

Resin-modified glass ionomers contain polymers that increase strength and durability compared to conventional glass ionomer fillings. They are also tooth colored but not quite as strong or durable as composite resin.

Ceramic Fillings

Ceramic fillings like porcelain are highly resistant to staining and mimic the light reflecting properties of natural teeth. Their lifelike color makes them a top choice for front teeth repairs. However, they are prone to fracture and typically cost more than composite resin fillings.

Tooth Colored Filling Process

Getting a natural looking tooth colored filling is a precise process. It involves several steps:


The dentist will first numb the area around the tooth to ensure you don’t feel any pain during the procedure.

Tooth Preparation

Your dentist will remove any decay and shape the tooth to allow proper insertion and bonding of the filling material.


Small grooves are etched into the enamel with an acidic gel. This roughens the surface for better adhesion.

Bonding Agent

A bonding liquid is applied to seal the etched enamel surface so the filling can bond tightly to the tooth.

Filling Placement

The dentist precisely shapes, colors, and hardens the tooth colored filling material. It is sculpted and polished to match your natural tooth anatomy.


Finally, bite adjustment and polishing ensures proper function and a smooth feel. Fluoride may be applied as a final protective layer over the filling.

Benefits of Tooth Colored Fillings

There are many reasons tooth colored fillings have become the first choice for restoring teeth:

  • Natural appearance – Composite and ceramic fillings match the color of your surrounding teeth.
  • Metal-free – Many patients prefer to avoid metals for health or cosmetic reasons.
  • Mercury-free – Composite fillings provide a mercury-free alternative to amalgam.
  • Strong and durable – Modern materials are very resistant to fracture and chipping.
  • Excellent bonding – Etching and bonding agents give fillings excellent adhesion to the natural tooth.
  • Tooth preserving – Less tooth needs to be removed compared to amalgam or gold fillings.

In addition to improved aesthetics, tooth colored fillings have demonstrated excellent clinical performance. Composite and ceramic fillings can last 10-15 years or longer when properly cared for.

Types of Tooth Colored Fillings

While all tooth colored fillings have a natural appearance, some types are better suited for specific filling locations.

Filling Material Best Uses
Composite resin Front and back teeth
Glass ionomer Small non-load bearing fillings
Resin-modified glass ionomer Intermediate fillings
Ceramic/porcelain Front and visible teeth

Composite Resin

Composite resin fillings bond well, mimic tooth color, and have good strength for chewing pressure. Composite resin is one of the most versatile options, suitable for both front and back tooth restorations.

Glass Ionomer Cement

Conventional glass ionomer cement works best for small fillings that are not under heavy biting forces. They are often used for decay in between teeth or paediatric restorations. The material is tooth colored but more translucent than opaque.

Resin-Modified Glass Ionomer

Resin-modified glass ionomers have enhanced strength and resistance to fracture versus conventional glass ionomer fillings. They are tooth colored and cost less than composite resin. Resin-modified glass ionomer works well for low to moderate stress areas.


Ceramic and porcelain fillings are the most cosmetically perfect match for natural teeth. Their lifelike translucency is ideal for highly visible front tooth restorations. They can be tinted to precisely match your surrounding tooth shade.

Tooth Colored Filling Costs

Tooth colored fillings vary in cost depending on the material used:

Filling Type Average Cost Per Filling
Composite resin $130 – $250
Glass ionomer $70 – $150
Resin-modified glass ionomer $90 – $180
Ceramic/porcelain $300 – $2,500+

Keep in mind costs can vary based on the size of the filling, number of surfaces involved, choice of dentist, and geographic location.

Tooth Colored Filling Limitations

While tooth colored fillings have excellent aesthetics and longevity, there are some limitations to be aware of:

  • Higher cost than amalgam fillings in most cases
  • Require more time and skill from the dentist
  • Can chip or stain over time
  • May require replacement sooner than amalgams in large load bearing fillings
  • Not recommended for biting edges of back teeth

Careful oral hygiene and avoiding chewing hard items like ice can help composite and ceramic fillings last longer. Avoiding dark drinks like coffee and wine helps prevent staining.


Thanks to modern dental materials like composite resin and ceramics, tooth colored fillings are now the standard of care. They provide an aesthetic and functional solution for restoring decayed or fractured teeth.

While costs are generally higher for tooth colored fillings, many patients find the benefits are worth the investment. Their natural appearance, strength, and excellent bonding make them a great choice for minimally invasive, tooth preserving restorations.

Next time you need a filling, be sure to ask your dentist about the tooth colored options available. With the latest generation of dental materials, you can get a repair that blends beautifully with your natural smile.