A dental or tooth filling is a common dental restoration procedure that is used to remove cavities from teeth and repair the damage that is left behind. When you go in for the treatment, the cavity will be removed, and the hole that is left behind will be filled with a material such as an amalgam or composite resin. While you won’t feel any discomfort during the procedure due to the local anesthetic used, it is common to have minor discomfort or sensitive teeth afterward. This may cause you to question why your tooth hurts, which is what we’ll answer below.
Sensations You Should Expect After Tooth Fillings
When the numbness wears off after the procedure, you’re going to feel some unusual sensations as the tooth and surrounding area will have some minor sensitivity. This can include:
- Pain when eating or drinking hot or cold foods and liquids.
- Pain when breathing in really cold, crisp air.
- Swelling and tenderness in the gums around the treated tooth.
- Pain when biting down or clenching the treated tooth.
- Pain when brushing or flossing the treated tooth and nearby gumline.
This type of minor and temporary sensitivity is completely normal after a tooth filling. However, if you have persistent sensitivity that lasts for more than a couple of days or if the pain is severe, you should contact your dentist.
What Can Cause Severe Sensitivity After a Tooth Filling?
If you are having prolonged sensitivity or moderate to high pain, there may be more going on than just the normal discomfort that is to be expected. There are a few different conditions that can cause severe sensitivity after a tooth filling, which can include:
- An Inflamed Pulp (Pulpitis). While this condition does not normally occur with minor fillings, if the cavity has reached the inner pulp layer, the tooth has had serious trauma, or the tooth has undergone multiple fillings, then pulpitis can occur. Pulpitis is when the pulp, which is the innermost layer of the tooth that contains the blood vessels, connective tissue, and nerves, becomes inflamed.
This is quite rare and can happen due to the procedure itself (the drill heat irritating the pulp) or due to decay being left behind (on accident) causing an infection to begin. Pulpitis can be reversible or non-reversible, and if deemed non-reversible (pulp is unable to heal itself), then a root canal is needed. Symptoms of pulpitis include gum swelling and pus pockets near the treated tooth.
- Poor Bite Alignment. After the tooth filling has been placed into the tooth and cured (made to harden), your dentist will run you through a series of bite tests to ensure that when you bite down, your teeth align with one another. When a filling is too tall, you end up biting down with extra pressure, causing moderate pain and sensitivity. Poor bite alignment after a tooth filling will also cause you to have difficulty eating, or putting your teeth together. Your dentist can fix this error by reshaping or adjusting the filling to match the bite alignment that is natural for you.
- Nerve Irritation. Removing a cavity is delicate work, and in rare cases when a large, deeply-rooted cavity is being removed, the dentist may get too close to the tooth’s root, exposing it. This, in turn, can aggravate the nerve endings and cause inflammation in the nerves within the tooth. As a result, you end up with severe sensitivity and pain until the nerve endings heal.
- Allergies to Dental Materials. Another reason you may experience severe sensitivity after your tooth filling is if you have an allergy to one of the materials used. The most common tooth filling type to cause allergic reactions is amalgams as these are a mixture of metals (mercury and a powdered alloy of silver, tin, and copper). So, if you have an allergy to any of these metals, you may end up with a rash or itchiness near the tooth. Another possible scenario is if you’re allergic to latex, as latex gloves are routinely used by dentists during dental restoration procedures.
Can Tooth Sensitivity After a Tooth Filling Be Prevented or Managed?
While you cannot completely prevent sensitivity after a tooth filling, you can minimize the discomfort by avoiding hot and cold food and drinks, and by practicing proper oral hygiene techniques. If you’re looking to manage mild sensitivity after a tooth filling, then we suggest the following:
- Using topical numbing gels designed for your gums.
- Using over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pain relief drugs.
- Avoiding chewing directly on the treated tooth.
- Avoiding acidic foods and drinks.
- Picking up and using toothpaste for sensitive teeth.
- Being extra gentle when brushing and flossing (use soft-bristle brushes).
- Rinsing your mouth after consuming foods and drinks.
- Avoid whitening treatments or products until sensitivity has gone away completely as these types of products can make it worse.
When To Make a Follow-Up Appointment With Your Dentist
You should expect to have sensitivity for two to four weeks after the tooth filling, but if it lasts longer than this or if the sensitivity does not get better during this time frame, then it is time to reach out to your dentist. If you experience a toothache, fever, or find it very difficult to eat, then book a follow-up appointment as soon as possible.
If you have prolonged sensitivity after a tooth filling, reach out to us and book an appointment to get looked at. We can make sure that you aren’t experiencing pulpitis, an irritated nerve, or are having an allergic reaction to your filling. We can also check to see if your filling was placed correctly and adjust it if need be. Lastly, we can give you some tips on how to manage your tooth sensitivity at home.