You’ve probably been there… You go in for your regularly scheduled dental appointment and suddenly the dentist comes in and tells you that you’ve got cavities! How is this possible? Your teeth feel just fine. They’re not sensitive and they’re not hurting. You don’t want them to get any worse though so you go ahead and schedule an appointment to get them taken care of. The dentist numbs your teeth, drills on them for a while, and then fills them up. Hooray, you’re free from the dentist for another 6 months! Except…

Your teeth now are sensitive and hurt! What did that dentist do to you???

Don’t worry! This is a normal and expected response to dental work. Let’s talk about why this happens, what to expect, how long it usually lasts, and when you should go back to see your dentist for a follow-up.

Why Do Teeth Hurt After A Filling?
Despite their small size, each individual tooth is a complicated system of blood vessels, nerves, repair cells, and protective outer layers. The outer layers of teeth are made up of the extraordinarily strong enamel and dentin layers which protect the pulp space in the center of the tooth. The pulp space in the middle of a tooth houses all of the blood vessels, nerves, and cells that keep a tooth alive and functioning.
Any time a dentist has to drill on a tooth it creates stress on the nerve. This stress leads to inflammation known as pulpitis, which literally means “inflammation of the pulp”. This response is what causes a tooth to ache or be more sensitive after having dental work done.

What Is A Normal Reponse?
In most cases, this inflammatory response is a temporary one. Dentists call this reversible pulpitis. This response can lead to increased sensitivity to hot and cold, a dull toothache that comes and goes, and some pain while biting and chewing. Once the inflammation resolves, the nerves start to react in a normal manner again and your tooth should go back to feeling like it did before you had the work done.
For the most part your dentist can’t prevent this response from occurring. Some people have a very mild response to dental work (often so little that they feel no pain afterwards) while other people have a much more severe response (that can lead to moderate pain for several weeks). The response is also somewhat proportionate to how large the cavity is. The larger the cavity and more drilling that needs to be done, the higher the risk of causing a negative response from the tooth.

How Long Does This Last?
For the vast majority of people, this period of mild pain and increased sensitivity lasts for a couple days up to a couple of weeks. If it continues much beyond this time period then it may be time for dentist to take a look and see if something else is going on.

When To Follow Up With Your Dentist?
In some cases, a toothache and sensitivity doesn’t go away or it is more intense than usual. In these cases you should follow up with your dentist to rule out some other issues. If any of the following occur, give your dentist a call to have them check out the fillings again…

  • Intense pain that wakes you up at night or hurts all the time.
  • You feel like your bite is off or you are hitting high on the filling.
  • You feel extremely sharp pain when you bite down, especially if hurts more when let off the biting pressure.
  • Your pain or sensitivity isn’t getting any better several weeks after having the work done.

Are There Any Other Reasons You May Have Pain After Dental Work?
You can have pain around where you had dental work for several other reasons. The type and number of injections you received, muscle soreness, and having to stay open for a long time can all cause significant discomfort in and around where you had dental work. As with pain coming from the tooth, these can take anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks to resolve entirely.