Dental fillings are one of the most “routine” procedures you see in dental offices. They’re often the first method of defense when you have active tooth decay. As the name suggests, fillings literally “fill in” open voids or cavities in your teeth, restoring your tooth and stopping the spread of decay.
Fillings, by design, cost less than a root canal or crown. But they can still be expensive if you don’t have insurance or money set aside for dental emergencies.
Plus, there are other factors that come into play. The size of your filling and what it’s made out of will impact the total cost of the treatment.
Understanding how much fillings cost and what you can do to minimize your expenses can help you save big on unexpected dental bills later on down the road.
Price of Different Types of Fillings
The material that your dental filling is made from directly impacts the cost of the restoration.
Amalgam (silver) fillings tend to be the most budget-savvy. They can start out as low as $50 for a small filling or go up to around $300 for larger ones, depending on where you live.
Silver fillings work well when the cavity is on the larger side, or it’s impossible to keep your mouth dry during treatment (because of the location of the tooth, age of the patient, or a heavy saliva flow.)
Composite (white) fillings are made out of tooth-colored materials that match your natural smile. They tend to cost a little more than silver fillings, but the price difference isn’t nearly what it was when they first became popular. A small white filling costs about $90, while a larger multi-surface filling may cost up to $450, which is still less than a dental crown.)
If you need a larger lab-made filling where extra visits and lab work are required, the price increases significantly. Inlays and onlays typically range in price from just a few hundred dollars to up to $4,000 or more, depending on what they’re made from.
How Dental Filling Size Impacts Cost
Dental fillings are ranked or coded based on the number of surfaces they take up. You might have a chewing-surface-only filling. Or you could have one that’s on the side of the tooth and the chewing surface. 1-surface, 2-surface, and 3-surface fillings are all priced differently because larger fillings require additional time and materials.
“Lab-made” fillings like inlays and onlays (also called three-quarter crowns) require even more time to prep and create, adding to the cost of your treatment.
How Much Your Insurance Pays for Dental Fillings
Remember this: every dental insurance plan is different. Your plan and your best friend’s plan are not going to cover the same thing at the same dollar amount, even if they’re from the same company. A lot of the specifics are determined by your employer, who originally purchased the policy for its employees.
And then there’s the fact that dental insurance benefits haven’t increased with the cost of inflation in over 40 years. Yes, you read that right!
Depending on your policy, you might have coverage on amalgam (silver) fillings but not composite (white) ones. Or maybe they pay the same amount for both. Your benefits package may set a specific percentage they cover on restorations, like 50% or 80%.
The best way to know exactly how much your insurance is supposed to pay for a filling is to see your dentist and get them to work up a detailed treatment plan. Their insurance coordinators will talk to your carrier directly, then write up an itemized list of what’s covered and by how much. At that point, you can have a general idea of how much your insurance will pay for dental fillings and what you’ll owe out of pocket.
Alternatives to Dental Fillings
What options do you have other than getting a dental filling? A few, depending on the extent of your tooth decay:
- Doing nothing
- Extracting the tooth
- Placing an inlay, onlay, or crown
Whenever the decay process is still in the demineralization stage—that’s when the enamel is starting to weaken, but there isn’t a physical cavity just yet—you can reverse the process with good oral hygiene and fluoride treatments. Preventative options like sealants can also cut back on your risk of decay in cavity-prone areas.
Ideally, the most conservative option is to repair your cavity with a small filling before the decay “jumps” to your adjacent teeth (yes, it spreads.)
Other Fees to Keep in Mind
Even though they’re not related to the cost of dental fillings per se, be sure to ask about sedation or similar add-ons that could affect the total price of your dental filling appointment. And if you’re extracting your tooth, you’ll need to take into account the price of replacing it with a bridge or dental implant afterward.
Should You Get a Filling if You Can’t Afford It?
Untreated cavities cannot repair themselves on their own. No matter what you read on Pinterest or see on YouTube, it’s physically impossible to reverse a cavity after your tooth enamel is already broken down at the cellular level. Can you stop and reverse demineralization? Absolutely! But a physical hole in your tooth will only get worse if you don’t fill it right away.
If you can’t afford a dental filling, look at it this way. The cost of care is only going to increase the longer you wait to treat it. What could be a filling today will be a crown or root canal a year from now.
What are some ways you can save money on the cost of a filling? One is to visit a local dental school to have your treatment completed. You’ll spend a lot more time in the clinic, but you save money out-of-pocket. Another is to use a 3rd party financing program for 0% or low-interest payments that you can break up into monthly installments that still fit your budget.
Don’t Put Off Until Tomorrow What You Can Do Today
It never ever pays to put off dental treatment. Talk to your dentist about what options and financing plans are available to treat cavities as quickly as possible.