Put simply, a dental filling is any substance which a dentist uses to fill a hole in your teeth. The hole might be the gap left behind after decay has been drilled out and removed, or it could be caused by a chip or other damage. There are two types of dental fillings – a composite filling which is white in colour and is therefore obviously more aesthetically pleasing, and the more common amalgam filling which is silver grey in colour. Although modern oral health care has shifted dramatically in the direction of prevention and cosmetic dentistry, there is still a place for the use of fillings, and for many people they are the treatment which is most likely to be offered. Depending upon the size of the filling, a composite filling will last, on average, for 8 years, while an amalgam filling can be expected to be in place for 12 years. Although fillings are extremely common and very rarely cause any difficulties, there are some problems which have been associated with them, and the more widespread are as follows:
There are several types of pain which might occur following dental fillings, and each type is caused by something different.
- Pain when biting – The patient starts to feel pain when biting down shortly after the local anaesthetic wears off, and the pain doesn’t wear off over time. This means that the filling is disrupting your natural bite, and you will have to return to the dentist to have it reshaped.
- Pain when teeth touch – This is a sharp, jarring pain, almost like an electric shock, occurring when two teeth touch. It is likely to be caused when two different types of metal within the mouth – Such as an amalgam filling and a gold crown – come into contact. Pain of this kind should wear off after a while.
- Toothache – If the filling was placed in a hole caused by decay being removed, then toothache like pain after treatment may indicate that the interior of the tooth is not healthy. In these circumstances, root canal treatment may be required.
- Referred pain – This is the name given when the pain you feel following fillings is actually felt in teeth other than the one which has been filled. It is generally nothing to be concerned about, as it just means that the filled tooth is transferring pain signals to other teeth, and it should disappear in a couple of weeks.
In some rare cases the metals used in an amalgam filling, such as mercury, may trigger an allergic reaction. The symptoms will be those of a standard skin allergy, such as itching and a rash, and patients affected will often have a family history of metal allergies. If this is the case, a different type of filling will have to be used in future.
As time passes, fillings in teeth may begin to deteriorate, worn away by factors such as chewing and bruxism (teeth grinding). If the gap between the filling and the tooth becomes large enough, it may begin to harbour food debris and bacteria which can, in turn, lead to decay or even the forming of an abscess. The good news is that, if you attend for regular check-ups, your dentist should be able to spot any damage to your fillings before it begins to cause a problem. In the case of a larger filling, or if further decay has occurred, there might not be enough tooth structure left to support a new filling. If this is the case, your dentist will fit a crown instead.
Looking after Fillings
- Numbness: The local anaesthetic will mean that one side of your mouth stays numb for up to 3 hours after the filling. In this case, you must be careful not to chew where your mouth is numb, in order to avoid accidentally damaging your lips, cheek or tongue. Children who have been given a filling must be closely supervised, as the unusual sensation of numbness may actually encourage them to chew.
- Sensitivity: In the days following your treatment, the tooth or teeth which have been filled may be sensitive to sensations such as hot and cold or from the pressure of biting. This will probably last for a few days in most cases, up to a couple of weeks at the most, and as long as the sensitivity isn’t getting worse as time goes on, it is nothing to worry about.
- Bite: If you suffer pain upon biting post anaesthesia then call your dentist, since this may mean that your filling has to be reshaped (see ‘Pain when biting’ above)
- Gums: The gums around the filled tooth may be sore and sensitive for a few days, with extra bruising present around the area where the anaesthetic was injected.
- Chewing: Patients should refrain from chewing on the site of any amalgam fillings for up to 24 hours after they have been applied. Composite fillings, on the other hand, can stand the pressure of chewing food as soon as the anaesthetic wears off.
Although modern dentistry is committed to reducing the preventative treatment required to a minimum, there may still be occasions upon which patients need to have a tooth or some teeth filled. If this is the case, you should take care to protect the filling in the immediate aftermath of the treatment and, if you have any concerns, should contact your dentist immediately.