How long should my teeth be sensitive after a cavity?
November 4, 2013 6:16 PM   Subscribe

I got a few fillings about five weeks ago. I'm still having some temperature-related sensitivity. (More to cold than heat, but a bit to both.) Not, like, really painful, but annoying. How long is normal for this to persist? At what point would I want to contact the dentist or go in to have them look at it? And if it's a problem, what are the most likely explanations? YANMD. Thanks!
posted by pdq to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: A little extra information I forgot:

1. I had a filling to replace a messed up old composite filling a year ago. I had no problems with that one.
2. Prior to the filling mentioned in (1), I have not had a filling since I was quite young (10-15 years ago, probably), so I don't remember what "normal" feels like.
posted by pdq at 6:18 PM on November 4, 2013

This is not normal; call your dentist now. There might be something wrong with the filling. Check with your dentist.
posted by RainyJay at 6:21 PM on November 4, 2013

Response by poster: Sorry, a little more add-on: Supposing there were a problem and it was my dentist's fault--would I have to pay for the work to fix the problem? Would they be likely to acknowledge that it was their fault? If they "found a problem" would I be better off going to a different dentist? It was my first time at this one.
posted by pdq at 6:24 PM on November 4, 2013

Best answer: I've had this problem. It probably lasted two annoying months. My dentist said there was nothing wrong with it, there's just lots or nerves in there. It was a while ago but I think I just suffered through it and ate less ice cream. I'd still call and talk to them. I think any dentist would fix something if they had messed up (or maybe my dentist is just really nice.)
posted by missriss89 at 6:29 PM on November 4, 2013

Response by poster: Last addition, I promise: if it makes any difference, it's a molar. Don't know if that would have the potential for longer-term sensitivity than a smaller tooth.
posted by pdq at 6:32 PM on November 4, 2013

I had a similar situation a few years ago - the dentist hadn't cleared the cavity completely and I ended up needing a root canal. You definitely need to go back to the dentist and get this cleared up.

As far as who will be covering this, that usually depends on how you phrase or approach this. If you go in with a "I still need more dental work, can you help me?" attitude, you can plan on paying it. If you approach it from "This filling you put in isn't right and I need you to fix it" you will probably be taken care of. Fillings are relatively cheap as far as dental procedures - it shouldn't be a big deal for them to fix it.
posted by _DB_ at 6:39 PM on November 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My dentist was absolutely super clear that if I was having problems with her work -- if my bite was catching or anything felt wrong -- I should come back and have it fixed and that it would not cost me additional money to do so. I did return a few weeks later to have the bite adjusted because it wasn't quite right and it didn't cost me anything.

I don't know that *every* dentist will perfect their work for free, but if it's obviously a side-effect of something they did, it's not abnormal for them to fix it and not charge for it.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:43 PM on November 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

PDQ, I'm going to lay out a scary dentist scenario for you, not sure how applicable it is to you, but when you alluded to "several fillings" and "first time seeing this dentist" it just sounded too much like a scam I've seen 2 friends fall under.

Person hasn't been to the dentist for a while. They go to a dentist and dentist says "wow, all these fillings need to be replaced! You've been very naughty, you should have gone to a dentist more!" Person says "wow, you're probably right, here have a big handful of money. I am a bad person."

Dentist goes on to do shoddy work, that was possibly not even required (composite fillings usually do not need to be replaced? Was there a cavity under the filling?). Shoddy work leads to complications. Complications lead to more work at patients expense, until she finally gets a second opinion at which point she finds out most of this work wasn't needed. That one of the fillings was done improperly, infected the root and led to a root canal. Further she finds that the "pay for everything up front, not at time of service" mode of payment was not industry-standard.

Lucky for her, she can successfully dodge bureaucratic stalls and deploys a legalese written certified mailed letter and invokes the threat of lawyers. She gets her deposit of several thousand dollars back.

So, just to be clear. A reputable dentist would like to know whats going on, and would probably not charge you to be seen again. A scammy one would see big dollar signs in a timid patient.
posted by fontophilic at 7:01 PM on November 4, 2013

I have had cavities that take upwards of a month to stop aching, and then they are totally fine. But then I also had a cavity that never stopped aching after a month, and eventually started to flat-out hurt, and I had it redone three times (twice by the original dentist and then once by a new dentist who finally fixed it) before it felt normal. I'd go in if it's been over a month and you still don't feel relief.
posted by joan_holloway at 7:01 PM on November 4, 2013

Call your dentist office, of course...

I use toothpaste for sensitive teeth and it WORKS. Relatively quickly, too.
posted by jrobin276 at 7:23 PM on November 4, 2013

My dentist once said that sensitivity to cold (after a filling) is normal, but sensitivity to heat is a bad sign. You should definitely call the office in the morning, describe your symptoms, and ask if an appointment is needed.
posted by insectosaurus at 7:24 PM on November 4, 2013

Best answer: Sensitivity to cold is a sign that the tooth is alive but unhappy. It could be many things, but if you were my patient, and you had cold sensitivity for more than a couple of days after a filling i would want to see you right away, and i would not charge you to evaluate the situation, make adjustments or desensitize the tooth.
Call tomorrow. Give them as much info as you can, including any pattern to the sensitivity, how long it lingers, whether it is improving or not. they should take care of it.
posted by OHenryPacey at 7:48 PM on November 4, 2013

I had two very deep cavities filled earlier this year. He warned me the two may be sensitive to hot/cold for a week or so. I think it lasted a month and a half (sensitive to cold only) I did go back after two weeks and basically after looking at it - he just said wait another week.
The next deep cavity I had filled he used a a different (and more expensive) resin (or whatever) and didn't have any sensitivity afterward. You can always call and see what they say.
posted by KogeLiz at 7:49 PM on November 4, 2013

I had a similar problem! I had a couple of old silver amalgam fillings replaced with composites. It took FOREVER for them to stop hurting (several months, don't remember exactly how many. . .4-ish). I was super skeptical that this would just go away with time and went back to my dentist more than once to have the bite adjusted, for her to check if there was an infection, if the pain was decreasing at all, etc. I even had an evaluation for a root canal by another dentist (his conclusion: maybe needed, maybe not, but my original dentist encouraged me to wait and I'm glad i did). I think you should probably schedule a follow-up with your dentist to see if the bite needs adjusting and nothing is amiss. I'm not saying this *will* go away with time but it's possible. If it hadn't happened to me, I don't think I would have believed it could have happened. Good luck!
posted by katemcd at 8:17 PM on November 4, 2013

huh, I'm surprised to see the answers here since my dentist explicitly told me to expect temperature sensitivity for a few months after doing my last filling, and was totally unconcerned when I reported sensitivity at the next two yearly checkups. Maybe because the filling was pretty big.

Better to call and ask your own dentist though, since they actually know what's going on with your particular teeth.
posted by randomnity at 8:53 PM on November 4, 2013

Best answer: Agree with what others are saying. I had a very deep filling replaced earlier this year (there was decay under the filling) and my dentist warned me that it would be sensitive for a while afterwards but to call if anything felt wrong. After a week or two of it hurting mostly with cold, but sometimes pressure and occasionally heat, I rang up, spoke to the assistant who said best to come in and did so. The dentist gave me a sensitivity test: basically she put something really cold - dry ice? - on first the tooth that hurt and then the tooth next to it. Turns out I am lucky enough to have delicate and sensitive teeth that take a while to recover from extreme stimuli, since the neighbouring tooth also took a while to feel normal after the cold. She said her best advice was to leave it for a while as long as it wasn't really bad and see if it would get better on its own. It's been a couple of months now and it feels more or less fine - occasionally twinges with cold or if I eat something hard that gets stuck on the tooth. She didn't charge me, btw.

So short answer: could be just the way your teeth are. Best to go back to the dentist to make sure there's nothing obviously wrong, and if it is presented as a follow-up to the last filling I think it's likely there will be no additional cost as long as any treatment is minor. Hope it feels better soon!
posted by Athanassiel at 12:14 AM on November 5, 2013

Some teeth are sensitive after fillings and this is normal, particularly deep fillings on molars. It can take awhile for the nerve to settle down but eventually it does.

Sometimes teeth are sensitive after fillings because there is a problem with the filling. Like another poster, I had a filling on a molar that was always sensitive afterwards because the dentist had not properly done the filling and I ended up needing a root canal.

5 weeks is, I think, long enough for your tooth to stop hurting. You should call the dentist. Your dentist has the answers to your questions and it won't cost you anything to call and ask about the dental work you had done.
posted by Polychrome at 2:17 AM on November 5, 2013

Similar situation and it took about four months for things to settle down in there. I did go back to the dentist 6 weeks after and she said everything checked out. It just took time.
posted by kimberussell at 3:33 AM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've had some old composite fillings replaced. They were cracked after about 20+ years of good service. My dentist used a dental etchant to make the tooth and composite seal more complete. She warned me that I may have sensitivity for weeks afterward and I did for about 2-3 months. Everything was fine with the actual filling, but the etchant opened some pores in the tooth that made the tooth more sensitive until the tooth remineralized. She gave me some prescription fluoride toothpaste to speed the remineralization along.

Check with your dentist to make sure it's nothing else, and they should do the check for free and any re-work of the filling should also be free if it's actually a problem with the filling.
posted by quince at 10:42 AM on November 5, 2013

Also, you say your old filling was composite, but don't say what your new filling is -- the temperature effects are *much* stronger with silver. If you're very sensitive, you might want another white one next time, shorter lifespan or not.
posted by acm at 2:03 PM on November 5, 2013

Best answer: Nthing that you should call your dentist and ask them if this is something to worry about. I've had sensitivity that took a bit longer than that to go away, so I wouldn't call it necessarily abnormal, but if you are worried about it, your dentist is the right person to talk to, and should be accommodating about any further work that might be needed. If your dentist isn't accommodating, then it's definitely a sign that you might want to start looking for another dentist.

One thing that has helped with overall sensitivity in my teeth is to get sensitivity toothpaste that has stannous fluoride as its active ingredient. It also is more effective at preventing decay and strengthening your teeth, and isn't much more expensive than regular toothpaste containing sodium fluoride.
posted by Aleyn at 7:08 PM on November 5, 2013

Best answer: I had this happen and thought nothing of it until a dentist acquaintance warned that it may be a sign of infection. Went back in, had the bite adjusted (for free) and all was well.
posted by Pomo at 12:13 PM on November 6, 2013

Response by poster: I called the dentist's office and the woman seemed moderately surprised but not shocked that I was still experiencing sensitivity. Scheduled me an appointment for the next day (today) and told me upfront that I would not need to pay anything.

I went in and talked with the dental assistant. She poked around, asked if things hurt, and couldn't find anythign suggestive of an infection/problem. Did some x-rays (free) and went and got the dentist. He asked questions and poked around and they looked at the x-rays and concluded there were no nerve or infection-related problems but that the fillings might be too high which would potentially (somehow) lead to sensitivity. They took them down slightly and suggested I buy sensodyne and told me to call in a few weeks if the problem hadn't gone away.

Thanks for the advice, all!
posted by pdq at 3:20 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

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