How Much Time Does It Take To Fill A Cavity

Updated: Oct 14

How long does it take to fill a cavity? Does the size and number of cavities being filled affect the length of time it takes? Our long island city dentists will lay it all out for you so you know how much time to budget for your next tooth filling appointment!


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Table of Contents:



What is a cavity?

A dental cavity is literally a hole in your tooth that is formed by bacteria metabolizing the sugar that is present in your mouth. The byproduct of sugar metabolism is acid, which can wear through the enamel and form tooth decay.


If the tooth decay is left untreated it can grow in size and eventually reach the tooth nerve. If it does reach the nerve, you will require a root canal treatment, which is much more expensive and takes a lot more visits. This is why, it is important to have small cavities treated as soon as possible because it will save you a lot of time and money.


Are you wondering how long the cavity filling procedure takes?



How long does it take to fill a cavity?

A small cavity can take as little as 20 minutes but a larger filling can take as long as an hour. The length of time all depends on the size and the number of surfaces of the cavity filling.


Size of the tooth filling

The size of the cavity will greatly affect how long it takes to fill in a cavity because the larger it is, the more tooth decay you need to remove and also the more filling material you will need to put back in. Conversely, a smaller cavity will take less time to clean out the decay and also less time to fill it back in.


Large cavity

A large cavity will take about 30-45 minutes to complete the treatment. This amount of time includes how long it takes to remove the decay and also to fill the tooth back in. As you can imagine, a larger cavity simply takes more time due to its sheer size.


It just requires more work from your dentist to do the tooth filling procedure overall. There is more drilling and there is more filling as well. All of that adds up and takes time.


Small cavity

For a small cavity it can take as little as 20 minutes to complete the tooth filling from start to finish. The reason is due to how small the tooth decay is. When there is less decay to clean out and less to fill back in, it will require less time.


What a small cavity looks like is just a small brown circle. It will feel soft or sticky if you touch it with a metal explorer, which we use to detect cavities. After the small cavity is cleaned out, the color will change from brown to yellow.


Once the decay is fully removed, all of the brown coloring will disappear. If you compare this cleaned out small cavity to the large cavity above, you will quickly notice the difference in size. Overall, a smaller tooth filling requires less time and less work to complete.



Number of surfaces of a cavity filling

The more surfaces the cavity filling involves, the more time it would take to fill it back in. This is because additional surfaces will require additional equipment, which leads to additional time added to the procedure.


Single surface cavity

A single surface cavity will most likely take about 20 minutes to fill back in. Your dentist just needs to remove the tooth decay and then fill it back in. There is no additional equipment required because your dentist can sculpt the filling back in by hand.


Multiple surface cavity

However, a multiple surface cavity will require more time because it requires additional equipment to restore the tooth. A multi surface cavity will take at least 30-40 minutes to complete the procedure because of the additional tools that are required.


This two surface cavity requires an additional piece of equipment because if your dentist simply fills the cavity back in, you would not be able to floss in between. Instead, your dentist will need to put a matrix band in between the teeth so that the bonding doesn't get stuck to the adjacent tooth. This will let you floss the teeth in between afterwards. Here is a video showing the extra equipment used for a multi surface cavity filling.




Other factors that affect the time

Aside from the size of the cavity and the number of surfaces, there are also other factors that can affect the amount of time it takes to do a dental filling. The amount of fillings you do and also whether or not complications arise, can all affect the amount of time for the procedure.


The number of fillings

Needless to say, the more fillings you do, the more time it would take your dentist to finish the procedure.

  • One cavity filling may only take 20-30 minutes.

  • Two cavity fillings may take 30-45 minutes.

  • Three cavity fillings may take 45-60 minutes.

Overall, doing more fillings means doing more work, which equates to needing more time.


Complications

Sometimes your dentist may run into complications during the middle of the procedure and that can add additional time.

  • Tooth decay that is close to the nerve. If the decay is close to the tooth nerve, your dentist may need to slow down to clean out the cavity more carefully. If they clean it out too quickly, they may run the risk of hitting the nerve, which would require you to go get a root canal. That would be an additional procedure and more time required!

  • Difficult to numb you. If you are difficult to get numb, it will take longer to fill in the cavity because your dentist will be sitting around waiting for the novocaine to numb you. In fact you may need multiple numbing shots and that all takes time.



What to expect for the treatment

This is what you should expect for the cavity filling appointment from start to finish.

  1. Apply the dental numbing gel. [1 minute]

  2. Give some novocaine and wait for numbing [4 minutes]

  3. Tooth decay removal [5 minutes]

  4. Fill in the cavity [5 minutes]

  5. Adjust the bite and polish the filling [5 minutes]

After the appointment, you will most likely stay numb for an additional 3-4 hours. You will have to wait for the numbing to wear off before you can eat anything. Otherwise you may chew up your cheek, lips, or tongue.



Takeaway

Overall, it should take less than hour to fill in a cavity but the exact amount of time depends on a couple of factors such as the size, number of surfaces, and whether or not there are complications. These additional factors can add additional time to the procedure.


Hopefully that answers how long it takes to fill in a cavity or at least that is how long it takes do do a dental filling in our long island city office.



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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!