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What is a dental filling?
Dental fillings are a common way to treat cavities, which are areas of decaying tooth that become small holes. During a filling, your dentist fills these holes with a substance, such as amalgam or composite. While this is a simple, routine procedure, it leaves many people with sensitive teeth afterward.
In most cases, tooth sensitivity goes away on its own within a few days or several weeks, depending on the cause.
Dentists often numb the area around the affected tooth before doing a filling. As a result, you probably won’t feel anything during the first hour or two after your appointment. Once the numbness wears off, you might notice some unusual sensations in your mouth.
- pain in your teeth, especially when breathing in cold air, drinking hot or cold liquids, and eating hot or cold foods
- tenderness in your gums
- pain in the teeth surrounding the filling
- pain when clenching teeth
- pain in the affected tooth when eating, brushing, or flossing
Several things can cause tooth sensitivity after a filling.
Before filling a cavity, your dentist removes the decayed part of your tooth with a drill that releases heat. In rare cases, this inflames the pulp, which is the connective tissue that forms the center of your teeth, causing pulpitis. If your dentist doesn’t remove all of the decaying tissue, it can also cause an infection in the pulp of the affected tooth. When this happens, you might notice your gums swelling or a pocket of pus near the tooth.
There are two types of pulpitis. The first is reversible pulpitis, where the tooth will be sensitive but the pulp will heal and get better. The second is irreversible pulpitis, where the pulp is unable to heal and your tooth will then need root canal treatment.
Change in bite
Sometimes a filling can cause the affected tooth to be taller than your other teeth. This can make it painful to close your mouth due to extra pressure on the affected tooth. In some cases, biting down can even crack the filling, so contact your dentist as soon as you notice a problem with your bite.
Multiple tooth surfaces
You might also feel pain or sensitivity from having two different surfaces in your mouth. For example, if one tooth has a gold crown, and the tooth above or below it has a silver filling, you might feel an odd sensation when they touch.
It’s also common to feel pain in the teeth surrounding the affected one. This is due to a phenomenon called referred pain, which involves feeling pain in an area other than the source of the pain.
Sensitivity after a dental filling could be an allergic reaction to the materials used in the filling. You might also notice a rash or itching nearby. Contact your dentist if you think you might be having an allergic reaction. They can redo the filling with a different material.
You can help to reduce sensitivity by:
- taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
- temporarily avoiding hot or cold foods and drinks
- temporarily avoiding acidic foods and drinks, such as citrus fruits, wine, and yogurt
- gently brushing and flossing
- using a desensitizing toothpaste
- chewing with the opposite side of your mouth
A problem with your bite is the most common cause of sensitivity. Contact your dentist as soon as possible if you think there’s a problem with your bite, which you may not notice until after the numbness has worn off. They can adjust the filling so it better matches your other teeth.
If you have pulpitis that doesn’t resolve on its own after a few weeks, you may need a root canal.
Sensitivity from a tooth filling should go away within two to four weeks. If the sensitivity doesn’t seem to be getting any better during that time, or it lasts for longer than four weeks, contact your dentist.