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Temporary Tooth Filling In Houston, TX: Why Do I Need One?

With large cavities and dental crowns, your dentist may need to perform a temporary filling.

By Jennifer
Photography by Pete

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When dental cavities first appear, our dentists typically recommend a dental filling to repair the damage and protect the tooth against future problems. Fillings are also often used when teeth are cracked or chipped deeper than dental bonding or veneers can repair. With a composite cavity filling, the fixed tooth will look just as natural and whole as it did before. However, as effective as dental fillings are, they are limited and can’t fix every cavity or broken tooth. More extensive dental damage may require a dental crown or root canal instead.

Most cases for a root canal and crown require two visits until the tooth is fully restored and reinforced. During the first appointment, a dentist will remove all of the dental decay and injured dental tissues. We’ll then take scans and impressions of your tooth, which can be used to prepare the crown. It typically takes about two or three weeks for the crown to be made and ready for placement. In the meantime, your tooth will need a temporary restoration to keep your tooth protected against food, bacteria, cavities, and damage.

Sometimes, this restoration is a temporary tooth crown, often made of either low-cost metal or plastic. However, other times, a dentist may instead use a temporary filling. Temporary fillings are not as strong or durable as temporary crowns, so you should be more cautious around what you eat. Otherwise, you could risk breaking your filling or causing it to fall out, which will require an emergency visit to our Houston office.

Along with capping crowns and root canals between visits, temporary fillings can also act as emergency restorations when cavity pain is acute and we don’t have enough time for a more permanent solution. Placing a temporary filling can be much faster than a permanent one, allowing our emergency dentists to focus on toothache relief. In some cases, your dentist may use temporary fillings as a stopgap measure when they need to treat your cavity across multiple visits. After all of the dental decay has been removed and your permanent filling is ready, we’ll replace the temporary filling.

Temporary fillings are also often used as a type of medicated dental filling if your tooth is particularly sensitive. The tooth’s nerve can sometimes be irritated or inflamed after the decayed tissues are removed, but the temporary filling helps to calm it while the tooth heals. Once your dentist is sure the pain has subsided and no further cavity treatment is required, we can place your permanent filling in a follow-up appointment.

Composition of a Temporary Filling

With a standard dental filling, your dentist will use white composite resin, which is molded into the proper shape of your tooth before it is hardened with a special UV curing light. Composite is designed to match the exact color of your tooth, so it blends in with the rest of your smile without anyone else noticing, including yourself. Traditionally, fillings used to be made of silver amalgam. However, concerns over their mercury content as well as their unnatural appearance have largely led them to fade out of use entirely.

But what about a temporary tooth filling? What are the different filling materials? Temporary fillings aren’t designed to last forever or even longer than a few months, so they are made of materials that are softer and easier to remove. Depending on the material, some fillings will harden once they mix with your saliva. Some of the most popular temporary filling materials include:

  • Glass ionomer (most common)
  • Zinc phosphate cement
  • zinc oxide eugenol
  • Cavit
  • Intermediate restorative materials

These materials won’t be the same seamless white of composite bonding, so they won’t match the shade of your teeth. This makes it easier for your dentist to identify the filling in the follow-up appointment to replace the filling with a more permanent solution.

The Temporary Filling Process

Getting a temporary filling is usually faster than getting a permanent filling. How long does a filling take? In many cases, it can be done in less than 30 or 40 minutes, depending on the severity of your cavity or tooth damage. First, your dentist will use a local anesthetic to numb your tooth and the surrounding gums. Patients with dental anxiety can also request dental sedation, such as nitrous oxide, to keep them relaxed mentally and physically throughout their treatment. Once you’re numbed and comfortable, we can begin working on the tooth itself.

We will remove the decayed and injured parts of your tooth with the help of a drill. If your temporary filling is sealing your tooth for a dental crown or root canal, our dentists may need to remove a significant part of the tooth. With root canals in particular, an entire tooth’s root or canal may need clearing. We will perform a quick scan to examine your tooth and ensure none of the cavity or tooth damage remains. The filling material is then mixed and spread to all corners of the tooth, filling up the hole to the brim. Finally, the material is molded and smoothed into shape.

Is It Normal to Feel a Filling?

Yes. Unlike with permanent fillings, your temporary one may be rough because it isn’t made with smooth composite or porcelain. Additionally, the outermost layer of your temporary filling may wear down over the next few weeks. As long as you’re careful, the filling will still remain in good condition until your next appointment. Your temporary filling also likely won’t match your tooth’s color exactly like composite fillings or even a porcelain crown would. However, it doesn’t need to be. It only needs to look and fit well enough to last the few weeks needed for your permanent restoration to be prepared.

How Are Fillings Replaced?

Removing your temporary filling to replace it with a crown isn’t difficult. Your dentist may use a periodontal dental probe or power-driven dental burs to scrape out the temporary filling material and remove it. In general, this removal process is relatively quick, simple, and painless. Depending on your tooth’s needs, such as with dental crowns and root canals, your dentist may need to reshape your tooth before fitting your final restoration.

Can A Temporary Filling Last For Years?

The answer is in the name. Temporary fillings are only meant to be stopgap measures put in place until your permanent restoration is ready. The materials used are less durable than even a standard composite filling, and the bonding used to hold the filling in place isn’t as strong. In general, temporary fillings are designed to last only the few weeks needed to create your crown. However, they can often last as long as a couple of months as long as you are careful with your temporary filling.

Eating the wrong snack can potentially crack or pull out your filling as the filling itself starts to break down on its own. Your dentist may recommend avoiding eating on the side of your filling for a few hours or days. We also suggest eating and chewing slowly as this can better ensure you don’t bite down hard on the filled tooth. After this period, you should still be cautious of what you eat, being sure to stay away from:

  • Hard foods: hard candy, ice, nuts
  • Sticky foods: gum, taffy, caramel

You should still brush and floss your teeth, but be sure to maintain your dental hygiene with care to avoid harming the filling. When flossing, don’t pull up like you normally wouldn but instead carefully pull the floss out sideways to prevent catching it on the temporary filling. Additionally, try to keep your tongue from rubbing against the temporary filling as much as possible. Otherwise, the filling may wear away faster and dissolve.

What To Do When a Temporary Filling Falls Out

Even as careful as you may be with your filling, it will eventually fall out without a follow-up appointment to replace it with a more permanent solution. If your temporary tooth filling comes out or breaks, don’t panic. While not a dental emergency, please contact our dentist office and schedule a visit with us as soon as possible to avoid any further damage to your vulnerable tooth. From there, we can examine your tooth’s health and prepare the best plan to move forward.

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