Unlike a root canal procedure which may take two or more visits to the dentist, having a cavity filled only takes one. The dentist puts in the filling and sends you on your way. Ordinarily, no follow up visits are necessary when you have a cavity filled.
There are some things patients should and should not do, however, that can extend the life of dental fillings. There are also some situations when a dentist should be consulted.
Wait for Feeling to Return
The local anesthetic used to numb the tooth during the filling procedure will take a few hours to wear off. It is best to avoid eating and drinking until it does. Because the mouth, lips, tongue, and even parts of the face can be numb, it can be easy to bite your lip or inside of your cheek or burn yourself with something that is too hot.
Common Sense Care
Once the anesthetic has worn off, most patients can eat or drink whatever they want. Some dentists, however, recommend staying away from foods that are hard, chewy, or sticky for a few days. These foods, along with biting down on anything too hard, can damage or loosen new fillings. This is particularly true for amalgam fillings, which are made of a mixture of metals. Composite, or resin, fillings are generally set and immediately ready for normal use.
Once fillings are in place, they should be cared for like the rest of the teeth. Regular brushing and flossing are essential. Routine dentist visits are a must. Not only will the dentist watch for signs of additional tooth decay and cavities, they will monitor fillings to make sure they stay in good condition.
When You Should Make a Follow Up Appointment
In most cases, filling a cavity is a routine procedure that solves the problem of a patient’s tooth decay. Occasionally, though, minor issues may occur. Some conditions will resolve themselves with time. Others may require a return to the dentist for some follow-up care.
Pain and Sensitivity With Dental Fillings
It is normal to have some discomfort after the anesthesia from a filling wears off. A bit of sensitivity to sweets, extreme temperatures, or even air, are common. For most people, the pain goes away within a few days, or at the most a few weeks.
If the pain lasts longer than a few weeks, or if it is either sharp or throbbing like a toothache, it may signal a larger problem.
One of the most common sources of discomfort is when the filling isn’t shaped properly. After filling a tooth, the dentist will shape and polish the filling materials until they are smooth. They will perform a “bite check” to make sure that it follows the original contours of the tooth. If they miss a sharp spot it can rub against the cheek tongue. If the filling isn’t filed down enough, it can hurt to chew. The dentist can easily fix these problems using their filing tools.
The Right Materials for the Patient
Certain metal fillings can bother some patients. It is rare, but some people are allergic to the metal in amalgam fillings. Symptoms are itching and rashes similar to skin allergies.
Or, if a top and bottom tooth both have metal fillings, it can actually produce an electric current called a “galvanic shock” when the two metals touch each other. For either of these two issues, a dentist can remove the filling and replace it with one made of a different material.
When a Filling Isn’t Enough
If a patient experiences persistent, toothache-type pain, it may mean the cavity was deeper than originally thought and may have reached the nerves. In these cases, a visit to the dentist may reveal that the dentist was not able to remove all of the decay. A root canal procedure may be necessary to fully treat the tooth.
Fillings Don’t Last Forever
Dental fillings will eventually wear out. Composite fillings are expected to last at least five years and amalgams at least ten. Many hold up for fifteen years or longer. The older a filling gets, the more likely it is to have an issue that should be addressed by a dentist. The following are conditions that are more likely with older fillings:
Fillings can crack. If the filling material isn’t shaped properly as discussed above, this can sometimes happen shortly after they are put in. More often, cracks develop over time due to the wear and tear of chewing and biting. In some cases, the cracks can be repaired without having the filling replaced.
Losing a Filling
Fillings can also fall out. This can also occur because of chewing and biting. It can also happen if saliva accidentally gets into the cavity during the filling process. If a filling falls out, it is not an emergency, but an appointment should be made as soon as possible. The exposed hole in the tooth will not only be sensitive or painful, but it will allow in additional decay, making the cavity worse.
Stained and Discolored Fillings
Finally, a patient may want to consult a dentist about replacing fillings that are discolored. Composite fillings can yellow with age, or become stained by certain food and drink. Fillings that initially matched the patient’s natural tooth color may now be more noticeable. This discoloration will not cause any harm, but some patients prefer to have them replaced for cosmetic reasons.
Know When to Call the Dentist
Dental fillings usually involve a one-time visit to the dentist. If pain or discomfort persist, or if they crack or fall out, a dentist visit is in order. Otherwise, as long as they are cared for along with the rest of the teeth, they should last for several years.