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Tooth Sensitivity After Filling: 8 Causes, Treatment & Prevention

Girl having a toothache

Dental fillings are a usual dental procedure that helps restore the function of a single tooth that has been decayed. The primary purpose of dental fillings is to fill cavities caused by tooth decay, preventing further decay and restoring the tooth’s structure and function. There are various types of tooth filling available, including amalgam fillings, which are made from a mixture of metals, and composite resin fillings, which are tooth-coloured and match natural teeth.

Tooth sensitivity usually occurs after a filling and is experienced by many for a short period. However, if people experience tooth pain longer than what is expected, they may need to consult with their dentist. In this content, understand why some people experience tooth sensitivity after a tooth filling and how to prevent tooth sensitivity.

What causes Tooth Sensitivity after a Filling?

Woman holding a muffin

Tooth sensitivity after a filling can happen due to factors such as the dental procedure and individual oral health. Furthermore, here are some causes:

Nerve Irritation

During a dental filling procedure, the dentist uses a drill to remove decayed or damaged tooth material and prepare the tooth for filling. The drilling action can potentially irritate the nerve endings within the tooth, leading to temporary sensitivity or discomfort. This irritation occurs as the drill comes into contact with the tooth’s surface, generating heat and vibration that can stimulate the nerve endings.

Additionally, the pressure applied during drilling can also contribute to nerve irritation. However, it’s important to note that this irritation is typically temporary and should subside as the tooth heals. The dentist may take precautions to minimise nerve irritation, such as using water to cool the tooth during drilling or applying desensitising agents to the tooth surface.

Pulpitis

Pulpitis refers to the dental pulp inflammation found in the centre of the tooth. When pulpitis occurs, it can cause sensitivity or pain in the affected tooth. Various factors, including tooth decay, trauma, cracked or broken teeth, or dental procedures such as fillings, can trigger this inflammation.

In the context of sensitivity after a filling, pulpitis may arise if the filling procedure inadvertently irritates or damages the dental pulp. This can cause so much sensitivity to hot and cold foods, as well as pressure on the tooth. If left untreated, pulpitis can progress to more severe forms, such as irreversible pulpitis, where the pulp tissue is irreversibly damaged and may require root canal treatment to alleviate the symptoms.

Exposed Dentin

Dentin is the hard tissue that lies below the outer enamel layer and comprises the bulk of the tooth structure. It serves as a protective barrier for the dental pulp and gives structural support to the tooth. Dentin contains microscopic tubules that extend from the outer surface of the tooth to the pulp, allowing for the transmission of sensory stimuli, such as temperature and pressure, to the nerve endings within the pulp. When dentin becomes exposed, either due to tooth decay, enamel erosion, or dental procedures such as fillings, it can lead to increased tooth sensitivity.

During the filling procedure, the dentist removes decayed or damaged tooth material and replaces it with filling material. In some cases, this process may inadvertently expose dentin, either directly or indirectly, due to the depth of the cavity or the extent of the decay. Once dentin is exposed, it can increase tooth sensitivity by letting the stimuli to reach the nerve endings more easily, leading to sensations of discomfort or pain, particularly in response to hot, cold, or acidic foods.

High Filling

A high filling, where the filled tooth’s surface protrudes more than the surrounding teeth, can significantly impact a person’s bite and the pressure exerted on the tooth. When the filling is too high, it prevents the teeth from fitting together properly, leading to an incorrect bite alignment. This misalignment causes the affected tooth to bear extra pressure whenever the person bites or chews, which can result to increased sensitivity and discomfort of the tooth.

The additional pressure from a high filling can exacerbate tooth sensitivity, as the excess force on the filled tooth can irritate the nerve endings within the dental pulp. This irritation can cause sharp pain signals, particularly when biting down or eating certain foods. Over time, if the high filling is not adjusted, it can lead to further complications, such as a cracked or broken tooth or even damage to the dental pulp, potentially necessitating root canal treatment.

Deep Filling

Deep fillings are used when tooth decay extends close to the dental pulp, which contains the tooth’s nerve endings. This proximity means that the filling material is placed very close to the nerve, increasing the likelihood of nerve irritation. This closeness can lead to heightened tooth sensitivity, especially hot and cold foods and beverages, as the nerve endings become more exposed to external stimuli through the thin layer of remaining dentin.

When a deep filling is performed, the removal of decayed tooth material often leaves a large cavity that must be filled, which can place additional stress on the nerve inside the tooth. This stress can result in increased sensitivity after the filling, as the nerve may react to the changes in pressure and temperature. This is particularly true if the dental procedure involves extensive drilling, which can further irritate the nerve.

However, it is not uncommon for people to experience tooth pain or sensitivity for a few weeks following the procedure as the nerve heals and adjusts to the new filling material.

Referred pain

Referred pain is a common phenomenon where pain experienced in one tooth is perceived as originating from another area, often making it difficult to pinpoint the exact source of discomfort. After a dental filling, referred pain can occur due to the complex nerves within the mouth. This pain can be particularly confusing and concerning for patients experiencing tooth sensitivity after filling procedures.

Patients often report sharp pain or discomfort when biting down or consuming hot and cold foods, which can complicate identifying whether the pain is due to a problem with the new filling or adjacent teeth.

Referred pain usually subsides within two to four weeks as the nerve heals and the tooth adjusts to the new filling material.

Incorrect bite alignment

Incorrect bite alignment following a dental filling can be a significant cause of tooth sensitivity and discomfort. When a filling is not properly fitted, the treated tooth can be slightly higher or lower than the surrounding teeth. This misalignment impacts the patient’s bite, leading to several issues that can cause pain and sensitivity.

A filling that is too high places extra pressure on the filled tooth every time the patient bites down or chews. This excess pressure can irritate the nerve endings within the dental pulp, resulting in sharp pain or persistent discomfort. The repeated stress on the tooth can also exacerbate nerve irritation, causing heightened sensitivity to hot and cold foods and drinks. Over time, this can become a chronic tooth pain and may even contribute to conditions like pulpitis, where the pulp becomes inflamed.

Moreover, an incorrectly aligned bite can cause referred pain, where the discomfort is felt in surrounding teeth that are otherwise healthy. This can make it difficult to identify the true source of the pain. The constant pressure from an uneven bite can also cause wear and tear on the other teeth, leading to potential issues such as cracked or broken teeth.

Allergic Reaction

Though rare, patients can have an allergic reaction to the materials used in dental fillings. Allergic reactions can occur with certain types of filling materials, such as amalgam fillings, which contain metals like mercury, silver, and tin, or composite resin fillings, which may include various chemical components. Symptoms of an allergic reaction might consist of localised swelling, redness, itching, and, in severe cases, pain or sensitivity in the treated tooth and surrounding tissues.

Patients who have a known allergy to any metals or chemicals should inform their dentist prior to the procedure to avoid the use of potentially reactive materials. Awareness and communication can help prevent these rare but uncomfortable allergic reactions, ensuring a more successful and comfortable dental treatment experience.

How Long Does Tooth Sensitivity After a Filling Last?

Patient being examined by dentist

Tooth sensitivity after a filling is typically temporary and should not be a cause for concern. In most cases, this sensitivity lasts for a few weeks to a month as the tooth and surrounding tissues adjust to the new filling material. During this period, it is common to experience heightened sensitivity to hot and cold foods, as well as some discomfort when biting down.

However, if the sensitivity persists beyond a month, becomes severe, or is accompanied by throbbing pain, it is important to see a dentist. Prolonged or intense pain may indicate underlying issues such as an incorrectly fitted filling, nerve irritation, or even a developing infection that may require additional treatment.

How does tooth sensitivity after a filling feel?

Tooth sensitivity after a filling can manifest in various sensations, each with its triggers and characteristics:

  1. Sharp Pain: This is a common symptom, often described as a quick jab or zing in the tooth, especially when triggered by hot or cold stimuli. It can catch you off guard and typically lasts only a few seconds.
  2. Lingering Discomfort: You might feel a dull ache or persistent throb in the tooth, particularly after biting down or chewing. This type of discomfort can last for several minutes or even longer after the pressure is applied.
  3. Increased Sensitivity to Temperature: Cold beverages, ice cream, or hot drinks might cause sharper or more intense pain compared to before the filling. This sensitivity can be immediate and intense, making it uncomfortable to eat certain foods and drinks.
  4. Sharp Pain with Sweets: In some cases, sugary foods or drinks can trigger a brief, sharp pain in the filled tooth. This type of sensitivity occurs when the sugars interact with the exposed dentin or nerve endings, causing a quick, intense reaction.
  5. Air Sensitivity: You might experience a brief, sharp pain when breathing in cold air or taking a sip of cold water. This sensitivity to air is similar to temperature sensitivity and can be quite noticeable in cold weather or when drinking chilled beverages.

What are the Solutions for Tooth Sensitivity?

To manage tooth sensitivity after a filling, several solutions can be tried, ranging from home remedies to dental-recommended treatments:

Home Remedies:

  • Desensitising Toothpaste: Using toothpaste specifically formulated for sensitive teeth can help block pain signals from the tooth’s surface to the nerve. Ingredients like potassium nitrate and stannous fluoride are often effective in reducing sensitivity.
  • Fluoride Rinse: Regular use of a fluoride mouthwash can strengthen the enamel and dentin, reducing sensitivity over time. It can help remineralise the tooth and provide a protective barrier against stimuli.
  • Avoid Trigger Foods: Try to avoid hot and cold food and beverages that can make your teeth sensitive. Gradually reintroducing these items can help the tooth adapt without causing severe discomfort.
  • Gentle Brushing: Use a soft toothbrush and gentle brushing techniques to avoid irritating the filled tooth and surrounding gum area. Aggressive brushing can exacerbate sensitivity and damage the enamel.
  • Salt Water Rinse: Rinsing with salt water that is warm can help reduce inflammation and promote healing. It’s a natural remedy that can soothe minor discomfort and keep the mouth clean.

Dental-Recommended Solutions:

  • Bite Adjustment: If the sensitivity is due to an incorrectly fitted filling causing an uneven bite, your dentist can adjust the filling to ensure correct alignment and reduce pressure on the affected tooth.
  • Dental Sealants: Applying a dental sealant over the filled area can help cover exposed dentin and protect the tooth from sensitivity triggers. Sealants give an extra layer of protection from temperature changes and irritants.
  • Fluoride Gel or Varnish: Dentists can apply a high-concentration fluoride gel or varnish to the sensitive tooth. This treatment strengthens the enamel and reduces sensitivity by providing a strong barrier.
  • Desensitising Agents: Dentists may apply professional desensitising agents to the affected tooth to help block pain signals and reduce sensitivity more effectively than over-the-counter products.
  • Root Canal Treatment: In cases where the sensitivity is severe and persistent, indicating possible nerve damage or irreversible pulpitis, a root canal treatment may be needed to remove the affected nerve tissue and eliminate the pain.
  • Replacement of Filling Material: If an allergic reaction to the filling material is suspected, your dentist may replace it with a better-tolerated material.
  • Regular Dental Check-Ups: Regular checkups to the dentist can help identify and solve potential issues early, preventing severe sensitivity after fillings.
  • Good Oral Hygiene: Maintaining excellent oral hygiene practices, including brushing and flossing, can prevent decay and reduce the likelihood of needing deep fillings that might cause sensitivity.

How to prevent tooth sensitivity after a filling?

  • Use Desensitising Toothpaste: Regularly use toothpaste designed for sensitive teeth. Ingredients like potassium nitrate or stannous fluoride help to block pain signals and strengthen enamel.
  • Brush with a Soft-Bristled Toothbrush: A soft-bristled toothbrush minimises enamel wear and gum irritation, which can contribute to sensitivity. Brush gently to avoid damaging the tooth surface and gums.
  • Floss Daily: Flossing eliminates plaque and food debris from between teeth and along the gum line, preventing decay and maintaining overall oral health.
  • Rinse with Fluoride Mouthwash: Incorporate a fluoride rinse into your daily routine to strengthen tooth enamel and reduce sensitivity. Fluoride helps to remineralise teeth and provides an added layer of protection.
  • Limit Sugary Foods: Reduce your intake of sweets and drinks. Brush or rinse your mouth after consuming sweets to minimise their impact.
  • Stay Hydrated: Drinking water helps remove food particles and bacteria, maintaining oral hygiene and minimising the risk of decay and sensitivity.
  • Avoid Using Teeth as Tools: Do not use your teeth to open packages or bite non-food items. Such habits can lead to cracks or damage that increase sensitivity.

When to Call a Dentist?

Dentist posing for a picture in her clinic

It’s essential to call a dentist if you experience any of the following signs or symptoms that may indicate a bigger problem related to tooth sensitivity after a filling:

  1. Persistent Pain: If you continue to experience severe or persistent pain in the filled tooth, especially after several weeks, it may indicate an underlying issue such as nerve damage or infection.
  2. Increased Sensitivity: If your tooth sensitivity worsens over time or becomes more intense, especially when triggered by hot, cold, sugary, or acidic foods and beverages, it could signal an unresolved problem with the filling or the tooth itself.
  3. Throbbing Pain: Throbbing or pulsating pain in the filled tooth, particularly if it’s accompanied by swelling or redness in the surrounding gums, may indicate an infection or abscess that needs immediate attention.
  4. Difficulty Chewing: If you find it hard to chew or bite down due to pain or discomfort in the filled tooth, it suggests that the filling may not be properly aligned or that there may be damage to the tooth structure.
  5. Signs of Infection: Check for any signs of infection, such as fever, swelling, or a foul taste or odour in the mouth. These symptoms may indicate that bacteria have entered the tooth leading to an abscess or other complications.
  6. Visible Damage: If you see any damage to the filling, such as chips, cracks, or dislodgment, it’s crucial to seek your dentist to prevent further complications to the tooth and surrounding structures.

Conclusions

Tooth sensitivity after a filling is a common but not permanent issue that patients experience after the treatment. It usually goes away after a couple of days, weeks. or months with the help of home remedies, prescribed medications, and aftercare instructions from your dentist. However, do not hesitate to contact your dental provider once the pain does not stop.

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