Do Fillings Hurt?

Updated: Aug 31

This is one question that gets asked every single day and multiple times at that. Do dental fillings hurt? We are going to answer this once and for all.


Expectation of pain from filling
Expectation of pain from filling

Table of Contents:


Should fillings hurt?

For a cavity filling procedure, you should not be feeling any pain at all. The purpose of the local anesthetic, novocaine or lidocaine is to numb the pain so that you feel nothing during the treatment.


The numbing gel and dental numbing shot was suppose to have gotten you completely numb so that you are devoid of all sensation for the entirety of the treatment. In fact, the numbing should last for at least two more hours after the procedure! That is how effective it should be.


If you do feel pain during the filling, it means you need MORE anesthesia. Basically the injection probably missed the nerve that it was suppose to numb.

  • It may come as a surprise but your dentist does not know where your nerve is. They only know the approximate area of where it is suppose to be.

  • Sometimes due to genetics and differences in our biological anatomy, the nerve could be in a slightly different position from where the textbook says it is!

  • The worse case scenario is if you have an extra nerve that is coming from a different spot that we don't know about!


To recap, no you're not suppose to have any pain during a dental filling procedure!



What should you expect during the cavity filling procedure?

As explained above, you should not be experiencing any type of intense pain or sensitivity during treatment because you should be thoroughly numb before starting the procedure.


The procedure is usually as follows:

  1. Your dentist gives you the pre-numbing gel.

  2. Then you get the injection with lidocaine

  3. Wait 3-5 minutes for the anesthesia to take effect

  4. Cavity removal by drilling out the tooth decay.

  5. Fill it in with a tooth colored filling.

  6. Polish and set you free!

Just to drive the point through that you should be so numb from the anesthesia that when you smile, half of your face doesn't move! Here is a picture to prove it:


Trying to smile but one side of the face doesn't want to
Trying to smile but one side of the face doesn't want to


What can you expect after the dental filling appointment?

After the procedure it is quite normal to feel a little bit of discomfort but it shouldn't be a lot.

  • Expect some tenderness where the injection was given

  • Tooth may feel a little sore since it was traumatize from being drilled into.

  • It may feel a little sensitive if you received a white filling because it shrinks ever so slightly once it gets hardened. The silver fillings don't shrink so you typically wouldn't feel this. That is a plus for amalgams!

  • It is also common to have your tooth sensitive to cold for a few days afterwards.


Aside from that, you really shouldn't have any excruciating pain or a toothache that keeps you up at night. If you experience any of those, please give your dentist a call immediately.



Potential problems with tooth fillings and follow ups

One very common issue that occurs after the treatment is an uneven bite. You may feel that when you are eating, your bite feels high or your bite feels off when you chomp down on food.


If this is the case you would need a follow up with your dentist to adjust the composite restoration down a little. This would be a quick procedure lasting less than 15 minutes. Just have to polish it a little lower so that your bite feels even.


The reason this happens is because when your dentist was checking your bite before you left, you were still numb so you couldn't quite tell if the bite was uneven or not. You won't figure it out until after the numbness wears off. Once again, this just goes to show how numb you should be during the procedure and why you shouldn't feel any pain at all.


Lastly, just so that you know, dental fillings don't last forever. They can crack, break, or even fall out. Overall, it may last for a long time but eventually natural wear and tear will wear it away. You will need it replaced at some point. Sometimes if the old restoration was very big, you may need to move onto a crown.


After all, only diamonds last forever right?


Diamonds last forever
Diamonds last forever

The Verdict - So how painful are dental fillings?

Great time to recap everything that you've learned! The answer is, tooth fillings are not suppose to be painful at all assuming that you were properly anesthetized and thoroughly numb. If you are having a toothache during the procedure then you most likely just need more numbing.


There is no reason to be worried about getting a cavity filled since it is not suppose to hurt. You should be more worried if you do not get the cavity removed because if it grows bigger, you will start having a toothache even without your dentist drilling into your tooth!


Overall, the entire procedure should be fairly pleasant and mostly pain free. The vast majority of our patients do not require any type of pain medication after the procedure.

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About the author: Dr David Chen, DDS

Hello, I'm Dr Chen and I'm an actively practicing dentist in Long Island City, NY. I graduated from Columbia University College of Dental Medicine in 2016 but prior to going to dental school I was already working in the dental field. It's been more than a decade since I first got to know dentistry and let me tell you, time flies by quickly. Since then I've developed a fondness for writing, which is how this all got started!

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Medical Disclaimer:

This blog is purely meant for information purposes and should not be used as medical advice. Each situation in your mouth is unique and complex. It is not possible to give advice nor diagnose any oral conditions based on text nor virtual consultations. The best thing to do is to go in person to see your dentist for an examination and consultation so that you can receive the best care possible.

The purpose of all of this oral health information is to encourage you to see your dentist and to inform you of what you may expect during your visit. Due to the unfortunate nature of dentistry, there isn't really any true home remedies that will get rid of dental problems. Roughly 99.99% of them require in-person intervention by a healthcare professional.

Hint: That is the reason why you can't eliminate seeing dentists in your life!