The Time It Takes To Fill a Cavity

Written & Reviewed by Dr David Chen

It should take approximately 30 minutes to fill a single cavity that involves one surface.

However the time that it takes to fill a cavity may take longer if other factors are involved:

  • Filling a cavity in between the teeth.
  • Deep tooth decay as opposed to shallow decay.
  • Getting multiple fillings done in one visit.

Why it takes 30 minutes

A cavity filling procedure that involves one surface on a single tooth should take about 30 minutes total. The surface could be the occlusal (chewing surface), lingual (tongue side) or buccal (cheek side).

Breakdown of time required for each step of a filling:

  1. Administration of local anesthesia – 5 minutes to get numb.
  2. Excavate tooth decay – 10 minutes to get rid of the cavity.
  3. Place filling and bonding – 10 minutes.
  4. Adjust restoration and polish – 5 minutes.

We just wish to emphasize that this is only an estimate. It may take longer or it may take less time but it is a good ballpark figure to go by.

Cavity filling in between teeth

Cavities that are in between the teeth do require an additional 5 minutes for the filling procedure. The reason is because these fillings require a matrix band and ring set up prior to placing the filling. It also requires time to remove the apparatus afterwards as well.

Palodent ring set up for cavity in between teeth
Credit: Dentsply

The diagram above shows the placement of a matrix band along with a palodent ring (by Dentsply) onto the tooth with the in between cavity filling. As you can imagine, it takes extra time to put this apparatus onto the tooth.

The purpose for using a matrix band and a ring for the in between fillings is that it prevents the filling from bonding to the adjacent teeth. If you bond the filling into the in between without a matrix band separating the teeth, the composite would get bonded to the adjacent teeth.

The end result is that you wouldn’t be able to floss through the teeth afterwards. However if you place a metal band to separate the filling from the adjacent teeth, you can floss through after the procedure. Essentially, it acts as a separating medium between restoration and adjacent tooth.

occlusal view of palodent ring set up for in between cavity filling
Credit: Dentsply

Here is an additional diagram above to demonstrate what we mean. This view is from the occlusal or the chewing surface. As you can see, the matrix band separates the cavity from the tooth in front of it.

Deep tooth decay

The extent of the cavity will play a role in how long a filling takes. A tooth with shallow decay will require less time to excavate than one with a deep and big cavity. A deeper cavity will add about an extra 5 minutes to the procedure.

enamel decay on x-ray
enamel decay on x-ray

The x-ray above is of a small cavity that is located only within the outer enamel layer. We circled it to show you what it looks like. The decay is basically the small black area.

On the other hand, you can compare that to the x-ray below, which has decay into the dentin. We circled it in order to show you where it is. As you can see, it has a much bigger black area inside of the tooth. This cavity is significantly bigger than the decay in the enamel from the x-ray above.

Dentin decay on x-ray
Dentin decay on x-ray

In summary, the larger the cavity, the more time your dentist will need to spend to clean it out. Expect the approximate procedure time to take a little longer if your cavity is deeper.

Multiple fillings in same visit

Last but not least, the amount of cavity fillings that you do will play a role in how long the appointment will take. Approximately each additional tooth filling that you’re adding on will add about an extra 15 minutes to the procedure.

# of fillingsTotal Appointment Time
1 filling30 mins
2 fillings45 mins
3 fillings60 mins
4 fillings75 mins
The number of fillings and how long it takes to fill the cavities

Basically the more fillings you want to do in the same visit, the longer the appointment will take. Your dentist has to clean out more decay and place fillings in more teeth. That all takes time.

The good news is that it doesn’t take an extra 30 minutes per tooth. Usually an additional 15 minutes or so is needed for each additional cavity.

Therefore if you don’t want to be at the dentist for too long, you should let them know you only want a certain number of them done at once. There is no shame in splitting up the treatment into multiple visits. Your comfort is the top priority!

Takeaway

A small cavity that involves a single surface should only take about 30 minutes to complete the filling procedure. However if the decay is deeper or it affects the interproximal surface, you may need to add additional time to the treatment.

Aside from that, if you also do more than one cavity filling at once it will also require more time. More teeth to fill will require more drilling time!

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Our purpose at afterva, is to encourage you to seek in person care with a doctor. It's not meant to be a substitute for medical advice.

A lot of nuances cannot be detected without an in-person clinical exam, which means it is near impossible to diagnose and treat virtually.

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