What to Expect with Dental Fillings

Pediatric dentistry. Female dentist examining a young girl.

What exactly is a dental filling?

A dental filling is a common term for a dental restoration, or the process used to replace tooth structure that has been damaged decay. Fillings are used to treat tooth decay or teeth that have suffered cracks, breaks, or excessive wear. Dental fillings are performed by a licensed dentist, who may work in tandem with a dental assistant who helps remove saliva and debris from your mouth during the filling process.

How common are dental fillings?

Fillings are more common than you think. If you are among the small percentage of Americans without cavities or fillings, then you are definitely in the minority. The overwhelming majority of Americans have cavities that either require treatment or have already been treated and filled by a dentist. The typical American has three dental fillings while one in four Americans has  11 or more dental fillings. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that nearly one-third of adults between the ages of 20 and 44 have untreated dental caries that would likely require fillings.

What steps are involved with a filling?

Dental fillings take time to complete and require a methodical approach. To be safe, you should for your filling to take approximately one hour to perform from start to finish. If your cavity is small, your dentist will be able to complete your filling in substantially less time. Here is a look at the basic steps involved when filling a cavity.

1) Your dentist will numb the area around your tooth

Before a dentist begins to work on your tooth, he or she will apply a topical numbing agent to the tissue surrounding your tooth. Then, after a few minutes, your dentist will administer a local anesthetic to help prevent you from feeling any pain while your dentist is working on your tooth.

2) The decayed portion of your tooth will be removed

Once the local anesthetic has taken hold, your dentist will begin removing the decayed portion of your tooth. This is typically accomplished with one or more dental drills or a laser. Your dentist or an assistant may use a suction apparatus to remove debris from your mouth during the procedure.

3) Your dentist will remove all debris and clean your tooth

Before applying the filling, your dentist will make sure that all debris has been removed from your tooth’s surface. Then, he or she will make sure that your tooth is cleaned and dried before proceeding to the next step.

4) Your dentist will probe your tooth to ensure all decay is gone

Once the decayed portion of your tooth has been removed, your dentist will use an instrument to probe the newly exposed area of your tooth to make sure that there is no remaining decay.

The aesthetic restoration of a lower molar tooth with composite resin. Dental filling

5) Your dentist will fill the hole in your tooth

Dentists vary in terms of the material used to fill a tooth. Filling options include silver amalgam, gold, and porcelain, and tooth-colored composite material. Many of today’s dental offices use tooth-colored composite material for fillings because they are more cosmetically appealing than other filling options.

How will my tooth feel after the filling process?

“Tooth sensitivity following placement of a filling is fairly common. A tooth may be sensitive to pressure, air, sweet foods, or temperature. Usually, the sensitivity resolves on its own within a few weeks…Pain relievers are generally not required. Contact your dentist if the sensitivity does not subside within 2 to 4 weeks or if your tooth is extremely sensitive.”

The Cleveland Clinic

After your dentist is finished filling your tooth, your tooth may be sensitive to hot or cold foods and liquids. In most cases, this sensitivity is not severe and will subside within a matter of days or weeks. If your sensitivity does not subside, make sure to contact your dentist for further instruction.

Will I be able to eat after a filling?

Your dentist may suggest that you refrain from eating right after a filling. For starters, your mouth may still be numb from the anesthetic, which could cause you to inadvertently bite your tongue or the inside of your mouth. Secondly, your tooth might be especially sensitive to hot or cold foods right after your restoration. The oral health experts with Colgate-Palmolive offer some specific instructions for chewing after a filling:

“Biting exerts tremendous pressure on the teeth, and this can make them very sore after you get a filling. When chewing your food, take your time and try not to bite all the way through; this will prevent your teeth from making forceful contact. If possible, chew on the opposite side of the mouth from where your filling is.”

Colgate-Palmolive Company

In addition to chewing with care after your filling, you should avoid eating hard or sticky foods, as they could stick to your newly applied composite material and dislodge your filling. The best course of action is to consult with your dentist before you try to eat or drink right after your filling is applied.

How long do fillings last?

“Dental fillings may last many years; however, eventually all fillings need to be replaced. Constant assault from eating and drinking, or stress from clenching or grinding, eventually may cause a filling to fail.”

American Dental Association (ADA)

Unfortunately, dental fillings are not designed to last forever. The exact lifespan of a dental filling will depend on the type of filling you have and how well you care for your teeth. In general, amalgam fillings have an average lifespan of just over twelve years while composite fillings have an average lifespan of just over seven years.

What is the best path to successful fillings?

While dental fillings are common among Americans, they should always be performed by a trained dentist. The best way to ensure that your fillings are properly performed is to visit a dentist who specializes in restorative procedures. As Cincinnati’s most accomplished provider of restorative dentistry, Blue Ash Dental Group welcomes the opportunity to help you overcome tooth decay. At Blue Ash Dental Group, our goal is to help maximize your comfort while we ensure that your fillings are expertly performed. We invite you to contact us to find out how we can help you improve your oral health. We look forward to serving as your trusted provider for all of your dental care needs!

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