Cavities, or tooth decay, can form as the result of frequently consuming sugary foods and drinks, not brushing or flossing regularly, and having too much bacteria in the mouth.

These permanently damaged areas can cause:

  • visible holes in a tooth
  • brown or black stains
  • tooth sensitivity
  • sharp pain

A dental filling can replace parts of a damaged tooth and prevent further decay. Although fillings are usually permanent, your doctor might initially treat tooth decay with a temporary filling.

Keep reading to learn more about temporary fillings, how long they last, and the procedure for putting one in.

A temporary filling is just that — a temporary treatment to restore a damaged tooth. These fillings aren’t meant to last, and as a semi-permanent solution, you’ll need to schedule a follow-up appointment with your dentist to have the temporary filling replaced with a permanent one.

Dentists use temporary fillings under certain conditions. The process of putting in a temporary filling can be quicker than putting in a permanent filling. So if you have a cavity that causes severe, sharp pain — and your dentist doesn’t have time to put in a permanent filling — you can receive a temporary filling as an emergency treatment.

Temporary cap for dental crowns

Your dentist might also put in a temporary cap if a deep cavity requires a dental crown (cap placed over the tooth). The filling protects your tooth until the crown is ready.

Temporary seal after a root canal

A badly decayed tooth might also require a root canal to remove bacteria from inside the tooth and ultimately save it. A temporary filling after a root canal can seal a hole in a tooth. This prevents food and bacteria from getting into the hole and causing further dental problems.

After the root canal heals, your dentist replaces the temporary filling with a permanent one.

Temporary medicated filling to settle sensitive nerves

Your dentist might put in a temporary medicated filling if your tooth is very sensitive. This will settle down the nerve and allow the tooth to heal before a more permanent filling is placed.

Your dentist will reevaluate the tooth at a later appointment to make sure that your pain has gone away and you don’t need any further treatment, like a root canal.

Since a temporary filling isn’t meant to last, it’s made of softer material that’s easier to remove. Some materials harden when mixed with saliva. Materials used for a filling can include:

  • zinc oxide eugenol
  • Cavit
  • zinc phosphate cement
  • glass ionomers
  • intermediate restorative materials

Permanent fillings often match the natural color of a tooth. Temporary fillings, on the other hand, usually have a different color. This allows your dentist to easily locate the filling when replacing it with a permanent one.

A temporary filling may be bright white, whitish gray, or white with a blue or pinkish hue.

Temporary or semi-permanent fillings gradually break down over time. Because of the softer material, they can crack and fall out if not replaced.

The exact life of a temporary filling can vary from person to person and the material used, but they can last as long as a few weeks to a few months. Ask your dentist how long your temporary filling should last and when you should return to for the permanent filling.

The process of getting a temporary filling tends to be quicker than getting a permanent filling, sometimes taking less than 30 minutes.

  1. First, your dentist numbs your teeth, gums, and surrounding area with a numbing agent.
  2. Using a drill, your dentist then removes any decay, and if necessary, performs a root canal or another dental procedure.
  3. Your dentist then mixes the filling agent, and presses the material into the cavity, spreading it to all corners of the tooth. The dentist continues adding the material until the cavity is full.
  4. The final step is to smooth out any excess material and shape the tooth.

Getting a temporary filling for a dental crown or cap will have additional steps where the dentist will shape your tooth for the permanent crown and make a temporary one.

Temporary fillings aren’t as durable as permanent fillings, so you’ll need to take care of the filling to ensure it remains in your tooth until you return to your dentist.

You’ll receive specific instructions to protect the filling. Your dentist may instruct you to avoid eating on that side of your mouth for a few hours after the appointment, as it takes time for a temporary filling to completely dry and set.

They may also tell you to avoid eating on that side, if possible, until you receive a permanent filling. Depending on the material used, chewing a lot with a temporary filling — especially hard foods such as candy, nuts, and ice — can cause the material to break or fall out.

To avoid damaging the filling, you’ll need to brush and floss carefully. Instead of pulling up when you remove the floss from the affected tooth, gently pull the floss out to the side to prevent it from catching on the temporary filling and pulling it out.

Also, be sure to keep your tongue away from the filling as much as possible. Constantly touching the filling with your tongue can cause it to loosen.

When the time comes to remove a temporary filling, your dentist may need to numb your tooth again so they can use a drill or other dental instrument to remove the material.

This procedure doesn’t usually cause any pain or discomfort, and temporary fillings are generally easier to remove. You might have some sensitivity after the procedure, which is normal and temporary.

If you don’t return to get your permanent filling, the material used for the temporary filling will gradually break down, exposing the cavity. An infection can develop if bacteria gets into the hole.

There’s also a very small risk of an allergic reaction to materials used for the filling. Allergies to temporary filling materials are uncommon, but signs of a reaction include swelling in the mouth or a rash and itching in the surrounding area.

A temporary filling is an excellent way to protect a damaged tooth as you wait for a permanent filling.

Temporary fillings aren’t meant to last, so be sure to schedule a follow-up appointment with your dentist to receive a permanent filling. This can protect your tooth from further decay and infection.