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Is a Dental Filling Painful?

woman patient in dentist office getting consultation from doctor

Dental fillings for cavities or tooth damage are one of the most common procedures in dentistry. However, many people are nervous about whether the process will be painful. It’s important to remember that dentists make efforts to avoid this, and that leaving a damaged or decayed tooth will allow its condition to deteriorate and become increasingly painful.

White Composite Resin Fillings

White composite resin fillings are popular for fillings; the resin material is tooth coloured to match natural teeth. Composite resins can be bonded directly to the tooth structure and are often used not only to fill cavities but also to repair chipped teeth or for other purposes.

An advantage of composite fillings is that they can repair small holes or cracks, and less of the tooth structure needs to be prepared or removed for the material to be bonded, resulting in a less invasive procedure.


After your dentist diagnoses a cavity through a visual inspection and X-rays or digital diagnostics, and determines the extent of decay, a treatment plan will be developed.

A local anaesthetic is administered to numb the area around your affected tooth. This typically involves an injection into the gum, though a topical anesthetic may be applied beforehand to avoid the sensation of the needle.

Next, your dentist uses a dental drill or other instruments to remove the decayed portion of the tooth. The cavity is then thoroughly cleaned to remove any debris and bacteria. Your dentist applies a bonding agent to help the composite material attach more effectively.

The composite resin material is applied in layers, with each layer being hardened using an LED light. This process is repeated until the cavity is filled, and the dentist carefully sculpts the resin to match the shape of the tooth.

Finally, your filling is polished to ensure smoothness and to blend it in with your natural tooth. Your dentist will also check your bite to make sure the filling isn’t interfering or affecting how you chew or bite.

doctor-dentist-treats-teeth patient hospital disposable rubber mouth opener

Pain and Discomfort: What to Expect

During Your Procedure

Although some people find the idea of a drill intimidating, the local anesthesia means that the actual procedure should have minimal discomfort. You may be aware of the sensation of the dental instruments and feel the vibration from the drill, but there should be no sharp pain. If you do feel any pain, let your dentist know, as additional anesthesia can be provided.

Anxiety and Perception 

Dental anxiety can amplify the perception of pain. If you are very anxious, you may perceive more discomfort and pain than those who are calm. There are options if you have dental anxiety, including dental sedation options such as nitrous oxide (laughing gas) or oral sedatives to help you relax and reduce your discomfort through the procedure.

After Your Procedure

As the anaesthesia wears off, you may experience residual numbness, tingling, or mild soreness around the treated area. Sensitivity to temperature extremes or pressure can also occur but usually resolves within a few days. Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can usually help manage any discomfort. Avoiding very hot, cold, or hard foods and drinks for the first couple of days can also minimize sensitivity.

If you do experience significant pain or increasing pain, this may be a sign of issues; contact your dentist right away for follow-up.

Factors Influencing Pain Perception

Various factors can influence how much discomfort you may experience.

Larger or deeper cavities that are closer to the tooth’s nerve can result in more sensitivity, both during the drilling process and after the filling is placed. Fillings on the molars or other hard-to-reach areas may be more challenging to access and can lead to more discomfort during the procedure.

People’s tolerance for pain varies widely. Some might feel minimal discomfort, while others could find a very similar procedure more painful. Again, very anxious patients may feel pain more acutely, as well

dentist administers anesthesia treating patient aching tooth

Pain Management Strategies

Advise your dentist if you have any pain tolerance concerns before a procedure, so your treatment plan can be tailored to your needs. If you do experience discomfort during the procedure, you should feel comfortable letting your dentist know.

If you have dental anxiety or a low pain threshold, sedation options can help.

Carefully follow your dentist’s post-procedure instructions for pain relievers, diet, and any other recommendations.

Getting a white composite resin filling is generally not painful, and effective communication with your dentist and following all instructions minimizes the risks of discomfort further. While the idea of a dental filling might seem daunting, it is an important procedure to help you maintain your oral health and avoid more serious – and painful – issues down the road.

At Orchard Park Dental, we offer white fillings, and promise to take the time to answer all of your questions and address any concerns you may have. Furthermore, if you have dental anxiety, we also offer dental sedation to help put you at ease.


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