Understanding the Two Types of Fillings: Direct and Indirect

Understanding the Two Types of Fillings: Direct and Indirect

When bacteria sets up shop and eats away at your teeth, decay sets in and creates a hole called a carie, which you may know as a cavity. If you’ve ever had one — as more than 80% of your fellow Americans have — you probably had it filled.

What you may not know is that this type of repair is called a direct filling. So, yes, that means there’s something called an indirect filling as well. This is the type most people don’t readily think about when it comes to fixing a cavity. 

Our team at OK Tooth in Midtown Manhattan, New York, aims to keep our patients abreast of all the latest technology and science behind their dental care, and sometimes that includes some surprising information about long-standing techniques. Here, we take a closer look at direct and indirect fillings so you can make an informed decision should you ever need this type of repair.

Direct fillings

When decay erodes your tooth enamel, we need to repair it before it progresses and causes further damage. To do this, we first remove the decayed material and clean your tooth. Then we fill the cavity with a material — typically silver amalgam, composite resin, or glass or resin ionomers. These are all called direct fillings, because they’re placed directly in the void where the decay was. 

Our team can repair a small cavity with a direct filling on the spot in one visit. Once we fill your cavity, we shape the filling to conform with the contours of your tooth and allow it to harden, and then you’re good to go. 

The same materials can be used to repair minor cracks and chips, but the procedure is called dental bonding rather than filling. 

Indirect fillings

If your tooth decay is more extensive and the cavity is too large for a direct filling, you may be a good candidate for an indirect filling. These include inlays, onlays, and veneers. Indirect fillings are fabricated in a lab to get a perfect fit, so you can expect to visit us twice: once for the preparation and once for the application.


Inlays cover the hollow grooves on the chewing surface in your teeth between the cusps. These valleys can be protected by an inlay custom-designed to fit the nooks and crannies of your tooth and cover a larger area than a direct filling can. 


Like inlays, onlays can repair cavities between the cusps, but they also span beyond the chewing surface and cover the top of the tooth and part of the sides. 


Typically made of porcelain, veneers are custom-fitted tooth-colored shells that cover the entire front surface of your tooth. We often use veneers to cover cracks and chips or to correct the look of misshapen teeth.

A few words about crowns 

If your tooth decay is too extensive for either a direct or indirect filling, you may need a dental crown. Crowns cover the entire surface of your tooth — top, front, back, and sides. 

To accomplish this, we thoroughly clean the cavity, get rid of all signs of decay, and seal the tooth. In cases where the decay has progressed into the tooth root, we perform a root canal to ensure the infection doesn’t spread to your jawbone. 

To fit the crown, we shave a bit of the enamel from the surface of your tooth so the crown we place over it doesn’t take up too much room. We give you a temporary crown while the permanent one is being designed at the lab. Then you come back for your final fitting and go home with a tooth that looks and feels like the rest.

If you notice tooth pain or sensitivity that may signal a cavity or a crack, our team at OK Tooth can repair the damage with a direct or indirect filling. Call us today, or book your appointment online. 

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