A lost filling isn't always a dental emergency—but when it is, you're definitely going to know about it. Sometimes when a filling detaches from a tooth, there can be immediate (and distinctive) pain. But why can a lost filling inflict so much pain on your poor tooth, and what needs to be done about it?
You can think of your teeth as having three layers. There's the tough, highly-mineralized enamel on the outside, with strong dentin (which forms the bulk of the tooth's overall structure) beneath the enamel. Dentin has a number of microscopic passages (which are called tubules) leading from its exterior surface through to its hollow center, which is the final section. This center is the pulp chamber, where the tooth's living nerve (its pulp) is found. Pain from a lost filling often involves the dental pulp.
An Exposed Nerve
Depending on the depth of your cavity and the filling that was used to protect it, your dental pulp may have been exposed after the filling was lost. This is the same as having an exposed nerve, and it can be very painful. Eating, drinking, and even speaking can irritate the nerve. It can even feel like breathing is causing a bit of distress as air moves over the exposed nerve. The loss of a dental filling doesn't always need immediate care, but given your level of pain and distress, you may need emergency dental care.
Relieving Your Discomfort
You must contact an emergency dentist and get the next available appointment—hopefully, you can be seen immediately. But there might be a few hours when you need to take steps to manage your pain, using items you already have at home:
- Particularly large cavities can be temporarily covered with a piece of sugar-free dental gum. This won't easily stay in place, but plugging the cavity will isolate your irritated nerve and should bring some relief.
- Over-the-counter pain relief will be very useful. Aspirin is fine, but ibuprofen is better. It has anti-inflammatory properties, which will be helpful since your dental pulp is in the process of becoming inflamed.
- A simple saltwater rinse has soothing properties, and while it won't eliminate your pain, it can help to calm an irritated nerve. Be sure not to gargle (which can be too much stimulation for an exposed nerve), and instead just gently swirl the liquid in your mouth.
The main takeaway is that significant pain following a lost dental filling should be treated as an emergency, and you should also take the required action to relieve your own pain while waiting for emergency treatment.