How to fill a cavity: materials, process, pain & aftercare

Cavities are pretty common and there is barely anyone out there who hasn’t had one in the course of their life. Eating hard and sticky foods can cause this, especially if not followed by proper brushing and flossing. But cavities can happen to the best of us, and there is no shame in getting them treated.

Once one develops, the hole has to be cleaned and filled. Doing this regularly can prevent more invasive procedures, such as root canal treatment.

Creative Commons

What is a cavity filling?

A cavity is when the hard surface of your tooth is damaged and a hole develops. Basically, a cavity is tooth decay. This is often caused by bacteria, which builds up from eating unhealthy food and not caring for your teeth properly.

Symptoms typically happen when a cavity is more advanced, so you may not notice it until it’s too late. However, if you catch one early, you may be able to reverse the decay and a filling may not be necessary.

Here are the most common symptoms of a cavity:

  • tooth pain, usually happening for no apparent reason,li>
  • sensitivity,
  • moderate pain when you eat or drink,
  • visible openings in your teeth, and
  • discoloration of the surface of a tooth (brown, black, or white).

If you experience any of these, contact your dentist right away. They will most likely have to fill the cavity.

A cavity filling is when the dentist fills the hole in your tooth with some sort of material. The goal is to get rid of your symptoms and make the tooth more aesthetically pleasing.

A cavity filling is when a hole in your tooth is filled with a type of tooth-like material.

Types of cavity fillings

Most people may think there is no decision to be made when getting a filling. On the contrary, there are actually a few different types you can get, depending on what you want or need.

Amalgam fillings

Amalgam is one of the longest-used and most-researched materials for cavity fillings. It’s a very strong material made of several metallic ingredients, meaning they’re great for fillings. Although they can be visible when you smile, they’re also the most affordable option.

Composite fillings

Composite fillings are made of a combination of plastic-type materials, and can be customized to be the same color as your teeth for aesthetics. These are best suited for smaller or mid-sized cavities in teeth that do a good amount of chewing.

Metal fillings

Metal fillings are usually made up of gold or silver. The upside to gold fillings is that some people like the look of them better. Plus, gold and silver amalgam fillings can last between 10 and 15 years.

Ceramic fillings

Ceramic fillings are usually made of porcelain and have the same color as your natural teeth. They can last for up to 20 years.

Glass lonomer

Glass lonomer is a type of composite filling and they release fluoride to help protect the teeth.

There are many different types of material that a dentist can use for a cavity filling, but amalgam is the most used and most popular.

Dr. Eric Moryoussef
Resin a.k.a composite resin is a type of white filling material made up of plastic polymers and glass fillers. It is often used for its cosmetic benefits when compared to silver amalgam fillings.

Cavity Filling Procedure Step-By-Step

Your dentist will speak to you before filling your cavity. They’ll let you know what’s going to happen, but it’s still a good idea to know what to expect before you even visit the office.

How do dentists fill cavities?

The first thing the dentist will probably do is give you some sort of anesthesia or numbing agent. Your comfort should be the top priority.

After that, they’ll need to scrape off the decayed part of the tooth. Then they will sterilize the area and prep the hole for the filling.

They will then fill the cavity with whatever material you and your dentist decided on. After it’s filled, the dentist will buff and refurbish the surface of the whole tooth.

Your mouth will probably stay numb from the anesthesia for a few hours afterwards.

How Long Does It Take To Fill A Cavity?

This whole process can take about an hour. And that includes getting X-rays before the procedure, speaking with you, and the actual procedure.

How long does cavity filling last?

How long a cavity lasts depends mainly on the material of the filling but also on how well you take care of it (more on that later). More often than not the higher the cavity filling cost, the longer it will last.

For example, glass ionomer fillings last a few years while metal fillings can last up to 15 years. On average, a typically filling will last between 7 and 10 years.

With a cavity filling, you’ll first get anesthesia. Then the dentist will remove the decayed part of the tooth, prep the area, sterilize it, fill the cavity with whatever material they’ve chosen, and then buff and refurbish the surface.

With a cavity filling, you’ll first get anesthesia. Then the dentist will remove the decayed part of the tooth, prep the area, sterilize it, fill the cavity with whatever material they’ve chosen, and then buff and refurbish the surface.

Cavity filling pain

During and directly after the cavity filling, you shouldn’t have any pain because of the anesthesia. However, as that wears off, you may begin to feel some discomfort. Your dentist will probably give you painkillers.

Pain after a filling is not unusual, especially since the dentist was just scraping your tooth after poking you with a needle.

Other reasons could include a cracked tooth or loose filling, which would be unfortunate, but it is possible. The most likely reason a filling could hurt is if, after the new filling, your bite is off a little. You’ll most likely go back to your dentist so they can adjust the bite.

So if the dentist didn’t fill the cavity correctly, you could be having pain. This is one reason to make sure you find a great dentist — you can do so with our Find A Dentist tool.

It’s normal to have pain after a cavity filling, but sometimes it can mean that there’s a more serious underlying problem. If you’re concerned, contact your dentist.

Cavity filling aftercare

Obviously, you should keep up good oral hygiene after getting a cavity filled. This means brushing twice a day, flossing, and visiting your dentist about twice a year.

Discomfort in the following days in normal, but if your tooth continues to be sensitive, if you feel a sharp edge to the tooth, if there’s a visible crack in the filling, or if part of the filling is missing, call your dentist.

As far as your diet, you’ll want to avoid hard and sticky foods and candies for at least 24 hours after the procedure as they can crack or dislodge your filling. This is especially true of amalgam fillings.

Continue good oral hygiene by brushing and flossing every day. Also, you should avoid hard and stick foods until after 24 hours post-operation.

Cavity filling FAQ

Just to be sure you’re as prepared as possible for getting a cavity filling, here are some commonly asked questions and answers.

Can you get a cavity filled while pregnant?

Yes, depending on the type of anesthesia the dentist uses. If it’s a local anesthetic like lidocaine (which it usually is), it is safe to receive while pregnant. The FDA classifies it as a category B drug, meaning it’s safe for both you and the baby.

However, if it’s IV sedation or general anesthesia, it may not be safe. It’s best to take your dentist’s advice.

Can a baby get a cavity filling?

Yes, definitely. Baby teeth actually stay in a child’s mouth for 12 to 13 years, and if you don’t fill cavities that form, the teeth can become infected. This will only lead to more tooth decay.

Do small cavities need to be filled?

Sometimes. If it’s small enough, you may not need to get it filled. If you catch the tooth decay (i.e. cavity) early enough, you may be able to treat it without a filling. However, you should see your dentist so they can examine it.

How many cavities can you have filled at once?

As many as you need and as many as your dentist is willing to place. It really depends on how long you can be at the dentist, how long can you have your mouth open without becoming uncomfortable, and how much anesthesia can you receive in a short amount of time. These are factors you can discuss with your dentist beforehand.

Is it possible to fill a cavity at home?

Possible? Yes. A good idea that’s safe and efficient? No.

You should really avoid a DIY cavity filling at all costs. It’s best to see a dental professional so as to minimize the potential issues and complications.

What is the difference between root canal and cavity filling?

A root canal cleans out the bacteria and any damaged tissue in order to make the area less painful and to help save the tooth. A cavity filling brings back the functionality and appearance of the tooth.

Basically, a root canal is like a filling but for the inside of the tooth, deep in the roots, where the nerve and blood supply is. A “regular” filling is to address decay on the top part of the tooth.


Cavities are no fun, but it’s important to know what your options are, how much a filling could cost, and how to go about getting and caring for a filling.

After all, there’s no point in making a not-fun cavity even more not fun.

Leave a Comment