These days, a trip to the dentist is a fairly uneventful affair. Patients report comfort levels far exceeding those in the recent past; pain relief medications are more effective and take effect more rapidly; and materials used in treating patients are more adaptive to tooth structures than ever before. Each of these improvements is designed to provide patients with the best clinical outcome and a degree of comfort previously unheard of. However, for a small percentage of patients, post-appointment pain can still crop up and linger for days or weeks on end. Why?
It’s Good To Be You – Sometimes.
Excluding rare instances of product malfunction or dentist error, the main reason a tooth is likely to hurt after a filling has to do with many highly individual factors in your mouth. The structure of your teeth, past dentistry, personal habits (like clenching and grinding), and even the durability of the blood vessels, tissues, and nerves within your teeth, play a part in whether you remain pain-free after your anesthetic wears off.
What Can Bring About the Pain?
Heightened sensitivity: If you consider yourself to have sensitive teeth, a trip to the dentist is probably going to make them feel worse for a while. That’s mostly because prior to your visit, your teeth have, in a way, been “hiding out” underneath a bunch of plaque and tartar. No good for the health of your teeth, for sure, but that gunk can mask sensitivity when it covers recessed areas. Once your hygienist removes that barrier, you’re going to experience more sensitivity as a result. Toothpaste for sensitive teeth can help – so please ask your dentist for recommendations.
Material used: When filling teeth today, many dentists tend to gravitate toward the use of composite materials. They’re flexible and durable, insulate the tooth from extremes in temperature, and bond so efficiently that less of the tooth needs to be removed to place the filling. That said, despite their proficiency in dealing with temperature, composite fillings can cause increased sensitivity when the filling is deep, or if it’s placed on an area of the tooth that experiences greater “flex.” For example, a filling completed along the cheek or tongue side of the mouth may hurt for longer than one completed on the biting surface, because of the unique stresses the tooth experiences at that location.
Pulpitis: Just as any surgeon will tell you “all surgery is risky,” all restorative work is traumatic to teeth. When a tooth requires a filling, the extended vibration and heat from the drill can cause the pulpal tissue within the tooth to swell. This can result in a condition known as pulpitis. In most cases, the swelling that results from this overstimulation is transitory, and fades as the tooth heals itself. Occasionally, though, the tooth fails to deal with the trauma, and the result is irreversible pulpitis. When this happens, the unfortunate remedy is often a root canal procedure.
Uneven Bite: The most common cause of pain after the placement of a filling is a “high” or uneven bite. This occurs when a filling placed on the biting surface of your tooth is uneven with the opposing tooth. When this happens, your bite might feel a bit “off.” The good news is, it’s not really anything to worry about. All you’ll have to do is revisit the dentist and they’ll smooth out the filling so it fits more naturally with its opposing tooth.
How Long Will the Pain Last?
This is the $64,000 question – and the most difficult to answer. The short answer is, it depends. It depends on your overall health, the health of your teeth, and the exact reason for the pain you are experiencing. In the vast majority of cases, pain that exists after a restoration tends to dissipate within a few days.
However, if pain persists beyond a week, you should call your dentist to inform them of your symptoms. Depending on the type of work you had done, your dentist may decide to perform additional X-rays, or suggest you wait a bit to see if things settle down with the passage of time.
Believe it or not, it’s not unheard of for some patients to experience discomfort for months after a filling is placed. The key is to be in communication with your dentist so you can monitor the situation correctly. While certainly not ideal, maybe you can find some comfort in the idea that you are as unique as you’ve always thought you were!