It’s news no one ever wants. If you’ve managed to escape the unpleasantness of childhood decay, it’s probably particularly unwelcome news to hear. No one wants to hear that their child is suffering from decay, and no child welcomes the news that they’re going to need to spend more time in the dental chair. Finding out that a filling is necessary is decidedly unpleasant news. But, rather than answering all the questions about your dental health, finding out a filling is necessary is likely to open up a larger set of questions. Foremost among these questions is probably, “Will it hurt to have a filling? If so, how much and for how long?”
Is it as bad as can be?
We’ve all heard a horror story about a friend or acquaintance who went to the dentist thinking everything was just fine and left miserable, having endured a lengthy procedure, suffering from the aftereffects of anesthesia, and experiencing pain from the procedure. Is that the inevitable and necessary result of having caries disease? Not really. As in other areas of life, people rarely share the boring stories of normal outcomes and well-handled procedures. Only the most dramatic horror stories are the ones widely shared and told with relish. The most common cases of dental treatment don’t resemble the horror story (or stories) you may have heard.
So what, exactly, is a filling?
A filling is a procedure used to treat some of the damage caused by caries disease. In caries disease, the bacteria overgrow, eventually damaging the enamel and causing a hole in the tooth enamel that extends into the inner layers of the tooth. A filling restores strength to the tooth and tries to slow and prevent further damage by closing off the hole and filling the empty spot created by the bacteria.
The dentist will drill out the damaged enamel, working to clean out the decay and leave only healthy enamel and tissue. Then, they will fill the drilled-out part using amalgam, a metal mix, or composite resin to support the remaining tooth. If the resin is used, the dentist will use a special light to harden the resin. The entire procedure is done in your dentist’s office.
Does it hurt?
Not if your dentist can help it. Your dentist will offer anesthesia for a filling, and you should discuss the pain management plan with them when you discuss the need for a filling. Most fillings only need a local anesthetic, often lidocaine, and your dentist can put a numbing gel on the area where they are going to inject the anesthetic to prevent you from feeling discomfort from the lidocaine administration. If someone is likely to feel anxious or feel a lot of discomfort from the filling, the dentist may offer nitrous oxide (gas) as additional pain control to make the experience more pleasant, or at least less uncomfortable.
Not all fillings are the same. Some are small and on easily reached areas of the tooth. These fillings are less likely to cause lasting discomfort. Larger areas of decay or decay in deeper, hard to reach spots can be harder for the dentist to work on. Sometimes that may lead to a little aching or discomfort after the anesthesia wears off. Ibuprofen can help with that kind of discomfort. Another potential cause of discomfort after having a filling is related to dehydration, which can cause headaches and other discomforts. It’s important to drink plenty of water after having any dental procedure to stay hydrated and comfortable.
So, will the filling cure the problem?
It depends on what you mean by the problem. The filling treats the cavity, but it does not heal the underlying problem that caused the cavity to occur in the first place. It’s important to work with your dentist to identify what risk factors you have that you can control to manage your caries disease and prevent the need for future fillings.
Can I skip the filling?
Once there is a measurable hole in your tooth, you will probably need to have your tooth filled. It’s far better to catch the problem before your tooth develops a cavity. If you catch the problems early, remineralizing treatments can be an effective way to avoid the dental drill. Once you have a filling, you are likely to need more if you don’t change the conditions that allowed the cavity to develop. When your filling is done, it’s a great idea to change up your oral care routine to prevent future damage.
At the end of the day, a filling doesn’t hurt anywhere near as much as ignoring the problem and allowing it to get worse. If you work with your dentist, you can have a filling without undue discomfort and enjoy improved dental health.