Temporary Tooth Filling: Is It Effective?

A temporary tooth filling is a temporary solution that requires extra care. This guide from Flossy explains everything you need to know.

September 29, 2022
Temporary Tooth Filling: Is It Effective?

While you wait for a permanent treatment, a temporary tooth filling is an excellent way to protect your tooth. But it requires you to be extra careful, so you don’t accidentally damage it. 

In this guide from Flossy, we’ll explain exactly how you should care for your filling and everything else you need to know about this temporary but effective treatment. 

What Is a Temporary Tooth Filling?

A temporary tooth filling is just that — a temporary solution to protect a damaged tooth. They’re mainly used in cases where a dentist isn’t sure how to address a dental issue but wants to protect the tooth in the interim.

For instance, a huge cavity may be filled in, but it may be so severe as to require a tooth extraction. While the dentist collects information about how to proceed, they may place a temporary filling to prevent further decay.

Temporary vs. Permanent Tooth Filling: What’s the Difference? 

You might have had a permanent filling before, but a temporary filling is slightly different. Here are some key ways temporary and permanent fillings differ from one another.  

  • Durability: Temporary fillings are made from a less durable material, which means they won’t last for very long. So, don’t skip your follow-up appointment to get a permanent filling put in.
  • Appearance: Permanent fillings are practically identical to your teeth in color and texture. But temporary tooth fillings don’t match your teeth, which lets your dentist easily identify and remove them.
  • Care: Temporary fillings are fragile, so it’s important to avoid aggressive brushing, biting down on hard foods, and opening packages with your teeth. While these should be avoided all the time, it’s especially important with fragile temporary fillings. 

Who Needs a Temporary Tooth Filling?

Your dentist is the best person to tell you if you need a temporary tooth filling. Here are some possible conditions that might warrant this treatment:

  • Tooth decay: Your teeth can decay if plaque — a type of bacteria — builds up on the teeth, eating through the enamel and dentin. Tooth decay can lead to cavities and holes in the teeth that might require fillings. It is one of the most common dental problems in the world.
  • Acid erosion: Eating highly-acidic foods or having a condition like acid reflux can eat through tooth enamel. If severe enough, a filling may be required to protect the inner parts of the teeth.
  • Physical trauma: A cracked or chipped tooth due to trauma may not be salvageable and can require a more serious solution, like an extraction. In the meanwhile, your dentist may choose to protect your tooth with a temporary filling. 

What Is a Temporary Filling Used for?

A temporary filling is a quick solution to the hole left behind a root canal. This procedure drills a microscopic channel in the tooth, which allows the dentist to remove bacteria that can spread to other parts of the mouth. A permanent filling can only be put in after the root canal heals, which generally takes a few weeks.

Another common reason for a temporary filling is to calm sensitive nerves. If you’re experiencing extreme tooth sensitivity, a temporary filling can allow your nerves to heal before a more permanent solution is implemented.

Sometimes, a tooth may be damaged to a point beyond where a filling can help. In such a case, your dentist might recommend a temporary crown instead. Instead of filling in a hole, a crown is placed over the entire tooth and can offer superior structure, support, and protection.

Shortly after a temporary crown is put on your tooth, a permanent crown will be made that matches the rest of your teeth. Depending on how well you take care of it, a permanent crown can last decades.

What Is a Temporary Filling Made from?

Since a temporary filling isn’t meant to last, it’s made from a soft, easy-to-remove material. Some of the materials used for a filling include zinc oxide eugenol, zinc phosphate cement, and glass ionomers. These generally don’t have a smooth texture and may feel bumpy in your mouth.

Temporary fillings are a different color from your teeth, so your dentist can easily identify them. They may be bright white, white with a blue tint, or white with a pink tint.

How Long Does a Temporary Filling Last?

Temporary fillings gradually break down over time, which is what they’re meant to do. In addition, because of their softer material, they can easily fall out if not replaced in time.

Precisely how long a temporary filling lasts depends on your unique situation. Generally, you can expect them to last a few weeks. If your dentist schedules a follow-up appointment, make sure that you don’t miss it — otherwise, you risk damaging your natural tooth.

What Is the Process for Putting in a Temporary Filling?

A temporary filling is usually combined with another procedure, such as a root canal. While these aren’t exactly lengthy, you may want to set aside a few hours of your day for them.

If a temporary filling is combined with a shorter procedure, such as filling in a cavity, then you may be in and out of your dentist’s office within an hour.

Filling in a cavity is a fairly quick procedure that requires your dentist to numb your teeth and gums and removes decay using a drill. Then, they will mix the temporary filling material and press it right onto the drilled area. For the final step, your dentist will smooth out the excess material and shape the tooth until it’s smooth. 

How Do You Care for a Temporary Filling?

To ensure that your temporary filling doesn’t fall out, you’ll need to be extra careful until your next dentist appointment. Follow these tips to care for your temporary filling:

  • Avoid eating on the side of the filling: Immediately after you get your temporary filling, you’ll need to avoid eating on that side for at least two hours — this will allow the material to mix with your saliva and harden. But it’s a good idea to avoid that side completely until you get your permanent filling put in.
  • Avoid eating hard foods: Accidents happen. You may be eating something hard, like almonds, and accidentally realize that you’re chewing on the wrong side of your mouth. This can cause your temporary filling to crack, so we recommend avoiding hard, crunchy, and sticky foods altogether.
  • Brush and floss gently: It’s important to avoid aggressive brushing and flossing in general, as this can speed up tooth decay. But this is especially the case with a fragile temporary filling.
  • Be mindful of your tongue: It can loosen and fall out if you’re constantly touching your temporary filling with your tongue. Try to be mindful of where your temporary filling is located and avoid touching it too often. 

Are There Any Side Effects of a Temporary Filling?

A temporary filling on its own doesn’t have many side effects, aside from the small risk of an allergic reaction. This can be prevented by letting your dentist know about any allergies that you may have.

If allergic symptoms develop, the temporary filling can be quickly removed and replaced with one made from a different material. Some symptoms to watch out for include swelling, pain, and itching, especially around the site of the temporary filling.

You may experience side effects if you don’t return for your permanent filling. Because the material used for a temporary filling gradually breaks down, it can expose the damaged tooth again. If bacteria come in contact with the tooth, it can lead to an infection, which can cause some serious health complications

Can a Tooth Filling Be Done at Home? 

There are many at-home tooth filling kits on the market, which can create the illusion that it’s possible to fill in a tooth at home effectively. But in reality, tooth fillings require a great deal of skill that dentists develop over years of practice.

A professional tooth filling isn’t done on its own. It’s often combined with other more serious procedures, such as a root canal, which get to the root cause of the issue. Such complex dental procedures can’t be done at home, so at-home filling kits only fix a small part of the issue.

While we generally advise against using at-home tooth filling kits, you might experience an emergency and have this as your only option. Some situations that warrant this quick fix include:

  • A tooth falling out
  • A tooth cracking or chipping significantly 
  • A large cavity that causes severe pain

If you’re, for instance, traveling and can’t see a dentist, then an at-home filling might help to protect your tooth until you see a professional. 

How Does At-Home Tooth Filling Work?

A filling kit contains a putty-like material, which you’ll apply directly to the tooth with the provided tools. When it mixes with your saliva, this material should harden slightly, which should offer your tooth some protection. However, this won’t be significant in any way.

Temporary tooth filling kits have a few downsides:

  • The color likely won’t match your teeth
  • They might impact your bite if used on the back teeth
  • They’re not appropriate for the front teeth
  • If bacteria gets trapped under the filling material, tooth decay can accelerate

While we’re skeptical of temporary filling kits, we strongly advise against permanent filling kits. Many risks are associated with them, including worsening tooth decay by trapping bacteria underneath the filling material.

Tooth Fillings Should Be Left Up to Dentists  

We understand that not everyone has dental insurance. However, ignoring dental problems can worsen them, leading to complications like heart and lung infection, septic shock, and even death.

If you don’t have dental insurance, there are plenty of low-cost options for getting dental work. You can visit a dental school, travel abroad, or check out Flossy’s network of low-cost dentists. Whatever you decide to do, make sure never to delay getting treatment for dental problems.

Conclusion

A temporary tooth filling is a way to temporarily protect your tooth until your dentist implements a more permanent solution.

If you’re getting a temporary tooth filling, make sure to be extra gentle by avoiding hard foods, aggressive brushing and flossing, and excessive tongue-touching. And make sure never to skip your follow-up appointment!

Your dentist can discuss all of these issues with you at your next appointment. For affordable dental work, let Flossy connect you with a highly-skilled dental professional — at a fraction of the cost.

Sources:

Tooth Decay Is the Most Prevalent Disease | PMC

Sensitive Teeth | The Journal of the American Dental Association

Complications of dental infections due to diagnostic delay during COVID-19 pandemic | BMJ Case Reports