Cavities develop when excessive plaque, a sticky bacterial film, accumulates on the teeth. When you consume foods or drinks that contain sugars, the bacteria in plaque produce acids. Over time, these acids can break down your tooth enamel, resulting in holes called cavities. Cavities won't heal on their own and need to be filled by a dentist.
Learning that you need a filling can leave you with a lot of questions. What will happen during the procedure, and how long does it take to fill a cavity?
The Filling Procedure: What to Expect
Cavities are relatively easy for dentists to fix. First, dentists use a local anesthetic, such as lidocaine, to numb the part of the mouth they'll be treating. This anesthetic is injected into the gum tissue, which can cause a temporary stinging sensation. Once the area is fully numb, the dentist proceeds with the treatment.
Next, the dentist will remove decay from the tooth with a dental drill or laser. After the decay has been removed, the space needs to be prepared for a filling. The dentist will shape the area and, depending on the type of filling being used, may etch the tooth with an acid gel.
Once the tooth has been prepared, the dentist can apply the filling material. Some filling materials need to be hardened with a special light. If you're receiving this type of filling, your dentist will shine a bright light on your filling several times during the procedure.
Finally, the dentist will polish the filling. This process smooths the filling and removes any sharp edges that could injure your tongue or the lining of your cheeks.
How Long Does It Take to Fill a Cavity?
Since a filling is a common and relatively simple procedure, it doesn't take very long to complete. A typical filling procedure only takes about an hour. If you have several cavities that need to be filled, your dentist may treat them over multiple visits.
After receiving a filling in one of your teeth, you may experience some soreness or tooth sensitivity. This can last for hours or days after the procedure. Avoid foods and drinks that can trigger sensitivity, including very hot and cold drinks, sugary foods and soft drinks. If the sensitivity doesn't go away, or if the soreness gets worse, see your dentist.
Some types of fillings need time to fully set. Sticky or hard foods can sometimes dislodge a new filling that hasn't fully hardened, so don't eat these types of foods until the filling has set. Ask your dentist how long you should wait to ensure you don't damage your filling.
Fillings may have sharp edges, even after being polished by the dentist. They might not be noticeable at first due to the anesthetic, but they can cause discomfort once the numbness wears off. If your new filling feels sharp, tell your dentist so they can fix it.
How to Prevent Cavities
To prevent cavities, remember to establish a good oral hygiene routine. Brush your teeth twice a day and floss once per day. This routine helps remove the plaque and food particles that can contribute to the formation of cavities. Since cavity-causing bacteria feed on sugars, avoiding candy and soda can also be helpful.
Regular trips to your dentist are incredibly important, so don't skip your biannual checkups. These visits give your dentist and dental hygienist the opportunity to thoroughly clean your teeth and examine them for cavities.
If a cavity is left untreated, the decay could spread and more extensive treatments could be needed. While getting a cavity isn't fun, the treatment only takes about an hour, so don't wait to book a visit with your dentist.