What to Expect Before, During, and After a Filling

woman at the dentist

They’re the four words that everyone dreads hearing at the dentist’s office: you have a cavity. Just the thought of having a cavity filled evokes a feeling of stress and anxiety in countless patients. Visions of loud, painful drills dance through their minds. The good news is, tooth restorations have come a long way in the last several years. Knowing exactly what the filling process entails ahead of time can help alleviate some of the anxiety associated with getting a cavity filled.

What exactly is a filling?

A filling is a material used to fill a cavity after the decay is removed. Not all fillings are the same, however. They can be made from a variety of materials, including:

  • Amalgam. Typically, amalgam is a mixture of mercury, tin, and silver. Dubbed the “silver filling”, amalgam has been used to fill cavities for over 150 years. It’s an inexpensive choice for patients and a quick and easy material for dentists to use.
  • Composite resin. For patients who aren’t crazy about the idea of amalgam fillings, composite resins are often used. Composite resin, which is a tooth-colored filling, is a less costly option than a gold filling.
  • Ionomers. Ionomers are also tooth-colored filling options. They’re commonly used for small cavities or cavities in between teeth. Some ionomers even release fluoride, which is an added bonus for patients who are cavity prone.
  • Gold. Gold is becoming an increasingly less popular filling option. That’s because it is both costly and difficult to work with. When gold is used as a filling, the procedure itself is likely to take longer.
  • Ceramics. Ceramics are another tooth-colored filling option. Unlike composite resin and ionomers, ceramics require the use of special equipment. Thus, it may take several appointments to complete the filling process when ceramics are used. Additionally, they’re typically a less cost-effective option than other tooth-colored filling choices.

Why are fillings necessary?

Cavities are holes in the tooth’s surface caused by tooth decay. Left untreated, the cavity will continue to progress, causing significant pain. Untreated tooth decay can also lead to abscesses, which are painful infections that can ultimately result in bone loss. Fillings, then, are essential for stopping the progression of decay and repairing the affected teeth. They typically last for several years before replacement is necessary.

What can I expect during the filling process?

Prior to having a cavity filled, be sure to let your dentist known about any heart problems you might have. That way, your dentist can prescribe an antibiotic to lower your risk of getting endocarditis, which is an infection in the heart.

To begin the filling process, your dentist will first numb the area to be treated. He will begin the numbing process by applying a topical anesthesia– otherwise known as a numbing gel– to the area before injecting it with an anesthetic. After your mouth is sufficiently numb, your dentist will remove the decay with a drill and then replace the decayed area with a filling.

After the filling process is complete, your mouth will remain numb for at least a couple of hours. This is a normal occurrence as the anesthetic wears off gradually. During this time, it’s important to be mindful of what you eat and drink. You don’t want to risk burning your mouth or chewing on the numbed areas.

Sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures is a common occurrence after having a tooth filled. This sensitivity should resolve within a few days to a few weeks. In the meantime, there are toothpastes available to help with your discomfort. Ask your dentist for recommendations.

Remember: arming yourself with knowledge is essential to overcoming dental anxiety. For more information about the filling process, or to discuss any other dental concerns, contact us today. We look forward to hearing from you!

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