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It’s natural to wonder whether dental fillings hurt. While it’s possible for fillings to cause discomfort, the procedure should involve minimal or no pain.
If left untreated, cavities themselves can cause severe pain and infection, and they can eventually result in abscesses. Cavity fillings are intended to restore teeth and reduce pain, not add to it, but it helps to know what to expect, especially if you’re nervous.
The most obvious sign of a cavity is a dark spot or discolored area that doesn’t go away with brushing or flossing.
Additional signs and symptoms of cavities include:
Several factors can affect the degree of pain, if any, that you experience during and after the filling procedure.
These may include:
Before performing the filling procedure, your dentist will administer local anesthesia. Though local anesthesia is given via injection, it’s unlikely to cause any significant pain.
Our in-house dentist, Dr. Khushbu Aggarwal, notes that if you have an infection in the area, or if your pain tolerance is especially low, local anesthesia may not be as effective.
It’s important to note that your dentist will do everything possible to minimize pain, both during the filling procedure and while providing the anesthesia itself.
Your dentist will likely apply a numbing gel to the area before injecting local anesthesia. This, along with gently massaging your cheek and injecting slowly, will help minimize pain.
In addition, Dr. Aggarwal notes that the needles used for local anesthesia are “generally much smaller than the needles used for blood draws and certain vaccines.”
Once the local anesthesia has taken effect, you shouldn’t feel any pain at all.
However, during the procedure, “it is absolutely normal to still feel pressure and vibrations,” says Dr. Aggarwal. Your dentist will use a dental drill to remove decay and then place the filling.
Before providing an injection of local anesthesia, your dentist may apply a topical numbing agent to the injection site.
For fillings, most dentists administer lidocaine, which starts acting within a few minutes and can last for half an hour or longer.
Lidocaine is often combined with a small amount of epinephrine (adrenaline) in order to minimize bleeding and keep the anesthetic in the area for longer.1
Other commonly used numbing agents include:
Fillings can take as little as 20 minutes to be placed. However, if you have multiple cavities or a particularly deep one, the procedure may take longer.
The entire process will look something like this:
Keep in mind that, immediately after the procedure, you’ll still be numb so you won’t feel pain. However, it’s normal to feel some discomfort a day or two following the procedure.
You may initially notice bleeding on the gums and heightened sensitivity to hot or cold foods/drinks and cold air. All of these symptoms should be temporary and mild.
If you experience severe pain or signs of infection such as swelling or pus, contact your dentist. You may have an infection.
After a day or two, you should be able to eat and drink as usual.
Dr. Aggarwal explains that some people are more at risk for developing cavities than others, particularly for genetic reasons.
While these genetic factors can’t be changed, you can take some simple steps to keep cavities at bay. Dr. Aggarwal recommends:
Dr. Aggarwal also suggests some subtle ways you can avoid excessive exposure of sugar to your teeth. “If you drink your coffee with sugar in 10 minutes, as opposed to sipping it over 2 hours, you are helping prevent cavities by minimizing the length of time your teeth are exposed to the sugar in your coffee.”
“If you drink your soda through a straw instead of without, you are minimizing the surface area of teeth you are exposing to the acidic beverage,” she adds.
The most obvious way to avoid exposing your teeth is to choose foods that are less sugary, less acidic, and less crunchy. “It is better to eat dark chocolate or even ice cream than pretzels or chips,” says Dr. Aggarwal.
Cavities are a common cause of tooth pain, and the process of tooth decay that creates them can lead to worsening pain and even tooth loss.
Dentists commonly provide dental fillings to address cavities. While they may cause some discomfort, the procedure of getting a filling should be relatively painless.