Do Fillings Hurt Without An Injection?

Updated: Apr 14

The last time you had a cavity filling done, the injection hurt more than the rest of the procedure! What if you did the filling without an injection?

Dental numbing Shot
Dental numbing Shot

Table of Contents

Can you get a cavity filled without numbing?

As a matter of fact, you can get a dental filling without having to be numb. We actually have about three patients out of the 4,000 active patients in our long island city office that do not require a dental numbing shot or the numbing gel for their fillings.

We are actually quite surprised by that, even though the numbers are quite low because it is approximately 0.0008% of our patients that do not require any anesthesia at all. They may be an anomaly to be honest.

Just to be clear, they requested no numbing and they've never needed any local anesthesia for all of their previous teeth fillings either. The cavities that we've done on them were not small either so we're really not quite sure how it is possible but we have to believe what we see...

With that being said, we should ignore those 3 outliers because they skew the data and are not representative of what the average person will experience.

There are THREE scenarios where it IS possible to do the procedure without numbing:

  1. If you popped off a filling while eating and it was very shallow.

  2. A small cavity that is still in the enamel.

  3. You already had a root canal on it.

Missing shallow filling
Missing shallow filling

This is the first scenario where the filling is missing. Do you see all of the yellow? That is the dentin and a dental filling should've been covering it but the patient popped if out while eating. In this case, there is no decay and we don't really need to do much drilling so we can just lightly polish it and then fill it right away. No injection necessary.

Small cavity
Small cavity

This is the second scenario where it is a very small cavity that is still in the enamel. It looks a lot worse than it seems. We often find that smaller ones like these haven't really penetrated the tooth beyond the enamel and into the dentin. We should be able to drill it out and fill it without much sensitivity. The patient may feel a slight tingle in their tooth if the decay happens to get close to the dentin though!

Tooth with a root canal
Tooth with a root canal

This is the third scenario. Do you see those 3 pink dots? Those are the root canal filling material and that indicates that the nerve has already been taken out of the tooth. You can drill this tooth as much as you want without a dental numbing shot and the patient won't feel a thing. Why? There's no nerve in the tooth so it is already dead and it cannot feel anything anymore.

  • This is also why we do not give an injection to our patients who have finished their root canal and have returned for their crown. Although sometimes we do numb them but for other reasons!

Why we give an injection for fillings

Besides those 3 scenarios from above, most dentists will give you some novocaine or lidocaine for the procedure approximately 99% of the time. The no numbing cases make up only about 1% of all of them.

With the statistics like that, you will most likely feel sensitivity and maybe even some pain if you were not numb. I mean, do you really want to find out if you need the anesthesia after the fact? It is definitely safer to just get the dental numbing shot. But, if you still insist on trying without it, we can always oblige you!

But yes, most cavity fillings are not small, they're typically medium size or larger. The vast majority of them have already penetrated into the dentin so you are guaranteed to feel some kind of sensation while your dentist is removing the decay by drilling.

What we mean by the decay is in the dentin is this:

Do you see how the cavity, which is the brown part? The white portion is the enamel and beyond that is the yellowish part which is the dentin. This tooth filling most definitely needs some local anesthesia since it is located in the dentin.


The answer is no, you don't always need numbing to get a cavity filled because there are 3 scenarios that let you get away without it. You could also be an outlier and just have very high pain tolerance. But, for the vast majority of people yes fillings do hurt without an injection!

If you have any questions, feel free to come in for a consultation. We're located in the Court Square area of LIC.

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