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Your First Filling: What to Expect Before, During, and After

Tooth Filling
Because tooth decay is so common in western societies, most people end up having at least a few cavities filled by the time they reach adulthood. But if you're one of the lucky people who managed to make it into your adult years without any tooth decay, the experience of being diagnosed with your first cavity may be a bit frightening.
​Unlike your peers, you don't know what to expect when you go in to have the tooth filled! Read on to learn about this process so you can arrive to your filling appointment feeling confident and informed.

How Should You Prepare for a Filling Appointment?

Preparing for a filling appointment is pretty simple; it's not like preparing for surgery. If your appointment is in the morning, you should eat and drink something beforehand as an empty stomach can make sitting through your appointment a bit uncomfortable. And since your dentist will be numbing your mouth, eating afterward will be difficult. 
Before your appointment, your dentist should discuss your filling options with you. Today, most fillings are made from either metal amalgam or composite resin. Composite is tooth-colored but more expensive. It's often recommended for fillings that are visible when you smile. Metal amalgam is less expensive and a little more durable, but it is an obvious silvery color, so it's usually only used on molars.

How Does Your Dentist Apply the Filling?

When you arrive for your appointment, your dentist will start by rubbing a numbing gel on the inside of your cheek. Then, he or she will inject a local anesthetic into the area, numbing the tooth to be worked on and the surrounding tissues. Though many people refer to this anesthetic as novocaine, novocaine is rarely used anymore; most dentists use lidocaine. You will slowly feel your mouth go numb over a period of a few minutes.
Once you are comfortably numb, your dentist may place several metal and cotton wedges in your mouth to isolate the tooth. They will then begin using a high-powered drill to remove the decayed enamel and dentin from your tooth. You will feel vibrations but no pain. This process will take a few minutes, and your dentist may use several different drilling tools to create a smooth, even surface.
Once the drilling is done, your dentist will rinse the area with a special antibacterial solution. Then they will use a syringe-like device to insert the composite or metal mixture into your tooth. If composite is used, your dentist will then shine a special light onto the composite in order to cure it. 
Within minutes, the filling material will be hard. Then your dentist will use a series of drills and files to smooth and shape it. You may be asked to bite down on carbon paper several times during this process so your dentist can make sure the new filling does not disrupt your bite.

What Side Effects or Care Instructions Should You Know About?

You will be free to go on your way as soon as the filling is cured and shaped. The half-life of lidocaine in the body is about two hours, so your numbness should wear away soon. Depending on the location of the filling, your dentist may recommend that you avoid eating and drinking until feeling has returned to your mouth so that you do not accidentally bite your tongue.
Care for your filled tooth just like you would a natural one. Brush and floss it regularly. Do avoid chewing overly sticky foods, like taffy and caramel, as they may loosen a filling. Some patients experience some sensitivity to heat and cold in a tooth after it has been filled, but this should wear off in a few weeks.
If you ever develop pain or sensitivity in the filled tooth down the road, this could be a sign that the filling has cracked or loosened. Make an appointment with your dentist to have it looked over.
As you can see, the process of getting a filling is quite simple and painless! If you suspect you have a cavity that needs filling, contact Michael J. Wallace, D.D.S., L.L.C.