woman outside in pain holding face

Getting a dental filling is usually a routine procedure that dentists perform day after day. Tooth fillings are one of the first options you have to repair the damage that’s caused by tooth decay. They’re smaller and less invasive than something like a crown, and they help to get rid of the pain from having cavities.

So why is it that some people experience sensitive teeth after filling placement? If you have that lingering after tooth filling pain, let’s step back for a minute and discuss how and why that could be happening.

What Is A Tooth Filling?

A filling is a small restoration – made out of really durable material – that your dentist uses to fill in and patch over a hole in your tooth. The hole, in this case, is a cavity. And since cavities are bacterial infections, the entire area of decay has to be cleaned out before you can place a dental filling.

That includes removing the closest layer of enamel or dentin next to the cavity. That way your dental filling is placed flush up against healthy tooth structure. At that point, your dentist will use tooth filling material like amalgam (a mixture of different metals) or composite (white resin) to fill in the opening.[1]

Symptoms Of Sensitive Teeth After Filling

How can you tell if your pain after a tooth filling is normal sensitivity or something else? For starters, make sure you’re not chewing on that side of your mouth for the first 24 hours. During this time your filling is hardening in place and the tooth may be in “shock”. Plus, you don’t want to accidentally bite your lip, cheek, or tongue because of your mouth still feeling numb. Once the local anesthetic starts to wear off, you might feel:

  • pain or sensitivity when you’re drinking anything cold
  • tenderness when biting down/chewing on that side of your mouth
  • dull aches when eating or drinking something hot
  • off-and-on twinges that seem to pop up for no reason
  • sore gums next to your tooth
  • lingering soreness after meals, clenching, or when you wake up

Generally, you can expect the nerve inside of your tooth to “bounce back” within a couple of weeks. But symptoms that last longer than 10-14 days could mean something else is going on.

What Causes A Toothache After A Filling?

Every tooth has its own set of nerves. Just like other places in your body, irritation or trauma to those nerves can cause sensitivity or pain. Fortunately, in the case of dental fillings, that discomfort is usually temporary. A lot of what people consider pain after a tooth filling is actually the soreness caused by the injection that’s used to numb their tooth. Even though local anesthetic is there to keep you comfortable, it can cause some referred sensitivity once the medication wears off several hours later.

It can be normal to experience sensitive teeth after fillings or other dental work. A few of the most common reasons to feel that “after tooth filling” pain include factors like:

  • soreness from where local anesthetic was injected
  • the filling being in close proximity to your tooth nerve
  • getting a larger than normal filling
  • temperature changes
  • the filling being too “high” on your tooth
  • pressure on the tooth when biting down or chewing

Can you tell that the pain is coming from directly inside of your tooth? More often than not, the nerve inside of it is in shock because part of the tooth layers above it were removed and replaced with something else.[2] It can take as long as several weeks after your filling appointment for the nerve to adjust to its new structure. In the meantime, some minor to moderate sensitivity is completely normal.

However, if the filling is extremely large and your tooth keeps hurting, there’s a chance that the nerve was too close to the cavity. In that situation, your dentist may try to treat your tooth with a dental filling first and if it doesn’t take, perform a root canal or crown.

Treatment For Relieving Sensitive Teeth Pain

The good news about having sensitive teeth after filling treatments is that your tenderness will normally wear off on its own. It can take up to 4-6 weeks for your nerve to settle down, especially if the tooth filling was a large one. If it doesn’t start to improve gradually within a couple of weeks, you need to go back to your dentist’s office to have it evaluated.[3]

Adjusting the occlusion (biting surface) of your filling is one of the first treatments to try. If your filling is too high and it’s biting down before the other teeth in your mouth, that extra pressure can cause tooth pain. Your dentist can slightly adjust the filling so that the occlusion matches up with that of the other teeth in your mouth.

Sensitivity treatments like fluoride varnish and sensitivity toothpaste can help too. If you’re using any whitening products, delay them until after your tooth has bounced back or just avoid putting the gel on that tooth at all.

In rare situations, your filling might need to be taken out, the tooth medicated, and then a larger restoration or root canal placed.

In most cases, sensitivity after getting a filling is temporary and goes away within a few days. Time is usually the best treatment!

Sensitive Teeth After A Filling

It’s not abnormal to experience sensitive teeth after fillings are placed. Normally it will wear off within a few days to a month. But if the pain is moderate to severe or lasts longer than a few weeks, go back to your dentist’s office to have it checked out. More than likely they’ll just need to adjust your filling, but in a worst-case scenario, they may need to perform a root canal.

Try to avoid eating on that side of your mouth for at least a day and then limit contact with cold or hot foods while sensitivity persists. Skipping your normal whitening routine and using a sensitivity toothpaste can also provide some relief.

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