After having a tooth filling, you expect the tooth to heal and the pain to go away instantly, which unfortunately is not the case. In reality, the healing of the tooth takes some time. Pain does not go away immediately after treatment, but it gradually decreases until the tooth has healed completely.
However, in some cases, the pain is very persistent and unbearable. Read on to find out if the pain is normal and what you can do about it.
What is a tooth filling?
A tooth filling is part of restorative dentistry. It consists of replacing tissue damaged by decay, wear, or by a defective enamel with a material to prevent the worsening of the tooth problem.
Different materials can be used: gold, amalgam, composite, and ceramic.
How are teeth filled?
Tooth decay must be treated before it reaches the pulp. If the pulp is infected, endodontic treatment is necessary. To fill the tooth, your dentist must follow some steps, each of which is important and guarantees the success of the treatment.
Among these steps :
- Your dentist will first anaesthetize the area where the tooth is.
- Tooth decay is removed with a rotary instrument. Thus, an empty cavity is created.
- The new cavity is cleaned.
- The filling is done with dental material.
- The bite is checked and the filling is polished to obtain a smooth surface.
When does the pain occur after filling the tooth?
It is normal and so common to feel pain after a filling (approximately 50% of filled teeth are sensitive). You must describe the pain you are feeling to your dentist: if it is localized to the tooth or spreads to the jaws? Whether it is spontaneous or caused by some factors?
Usually, normal pain is limited to the tooth or area being treated and caused by some factors.
Some of the factors that can cause pain after dental filling:
The tooth nerves are particularly sensitive after a filling, which is why you may experience discomfort when you eat hot or cold foods or when you breathe cold air through your mouth. This is because the temperature will cause fluids inside the pulp (the heart of the tooth) to move, which will irritate the nerves and cause pain.
Also, be aware that extreme temperatures can dilate or contract a metal filling (amalgam) which will make the pain worse. If you have amalgam in your mouth, choose lukewarm foods.
Acidic or sweet foods
As with hot or cold foods, acidic or sweet foods will irritate the tooth nerve and lead to pain.
Sensitivity during chewing
It is common to experience pain when pressure is applied to a recently "filled" tooth, especially during chewing. In this case, analgesics can give you relief. Choose foods that are easy to chew and use the other side of the mouth.
Note that if the pain persists beyond 3 days, the restoration may not be well adapted in height, go back to your dentist, who will adjust your filling.
Why do we feel pain after a filling?
During the treatment, the whole area including the teeth, gum and jaw are traumatized, the anesthesia makes you feel nothing during the procedure, but when your sensations return after the anesthesia, discomfort may remain.
This hypersensitivity is not alarming and fades naturally over time, however, if the pain lasts longer than a certain period it is necessary to act quickly.
When should you be worried?
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.
Another sign that should alarm you is the irradiation of pain in the jaws. If there is a feeling of pulsation or irradiation in your filled tooth, it is probably a sign of inflammation. It may be pulpitis which means inflammation of the nerve of the tooth linked to particularly deep decay. It could also be the initial stage of an abscess; the radiating pain often indicates the installation of a future abscess.
Such conditions may arise if your dentist did not remove the decay completely or if the tooth pulp was already inflamed and your dentist preferred conservative treatment hoping for a favourable response from the pulp.
In this case, see your dentist immediately, treatment is imperative to prevent the pain from intensifying.
Other factors can also trigger the pain of a filled tooth, among them:
Wear and deterioration of the tooth filling
Our teeth wear out over time, and so do fillings. The wear of the filling will increase the space between the tooth and the material resulting in the infiltration of bacteria into the pulp. These can lead to pain and root canal treatment or removal of the tooth if it is irreparable.
When your dentist made your fillings, he or she checked your bite at the end of the appointment. You were asked to bite down on a piece of coloured paper to check for interference. But sometimes you might be so numb that you don't quite close in the right place and the fillings stay high, which can result in biting pain and even fracture of the tooth. If your bite is not correct, you feel that your other teeth are not touching when you close. It would then be important to call your dentist to adjust the height of the filling.
Your gum may be irritated after the dental filling. The decay could have been near or even under the gum line. But, don't worry, the gum tissue heals quickly after a few days.
If you have bleeding or pain on your gums, you can rinse with salt water a few times a day after seeing your dentist. This will help the gum tissue to recover faster.
What can you do to manage the pain?
The day of treatment.
- Be careful not to bite or burn yourself and preferably avoid eating until the effect of the anesthesia wears off completely. It lasts for 2 to 3 hours.
- Avoid chewing on the filled tooth until the next day.
- Avoid foods that are too hot or cold
The next days
- Take anti-inflammatory drugs as prescribed by your dentist such as ibuprofen
- Avoid foods that are too hot or cold for one to two weeks to decrease the sensitivity of the tooth. This sensitivity to cold and heat gradually decreases but can last up to 3 months.
- Continue to practice your oral hygiene but gently.
- Opt for a desensitizing toothpaste.
Pain after a dental filling is common. It is necessary to follow the recommendations of your dentist and to continue to do regular examinations every 6 months not only for sensitivity problems but also to maintain a healthy filling in the long term.
But it is important to contact your dentist, following dental fillings, if certain problems persist:
- if you think your bite is not like it used to be;
- if you experience pain in your tooth which cannot be relieved by analgesics;
- if you remain numb beyond 24 hours after treatment;
- if your tooth remains sensitive to hot and cold, months after treatment;
- if you feel that there is a crack in your tooth;
- if your tooth has irregular colour changes.
Ayoub Eleh is a dental student. His passion for web development prompted him to start his oral health blog tooth-life.com.
Ayoub’s mission is to educate and inform the public on the importance of proper oral care. This includes producing authoritative content on oral disease prevention, how dental procedures work, and tips for finding the best dentist based on individual needs.