A temporary dental filling is a non-permanent, or short-term, filling that might be placed for one of several reasons and should be followed at a later date with a permanent treatment.
So let’s first look at the reasons for a temporary tooth filling (and the typical follow-up). These include the following.
- A recent toothache, where a therapeutic/healing material can help to resolve the tooth’s sensitivity. Such fillings release chemicals that help the tooth to repair itself.
(Once these chemicals have worked, a permanent filling is placed.)
- Extensive/deep decay in a tooth. This usually requires careful management and the dentist may need to observe the tooth over time to ascertain the most appropriate longer-term treatment.
(Either root canal treatment, extraction or perhaps a crown, for a cracked tooth, will be considered as possible longer-term treatments.)
- Tooth decay (from poor cleaning and/or diet, a fracture or other damage). This is a bacterial infection. Just as a medical practitioner uses antibiotics to assist in treating infection in a patient’s body, a dentist often needs to use chemicals, found in temporary fillings, to assist in managing tooth decay.
(Again, once these chemicals have worked, a permanent filling can be placed.)
- A shortage of time within the one appointment.
(Some permanent fillings take 60 minutes to be placed properly, whereas a temporary tooth filling generally takes only 30 minutes.)
- If the nerve supply to the patient’s tooth has suffered irreversible damage (usually due to decay), then root canal treatment will be needed, and this treatment is performed over two to three visits. The preparation can be carried out in a first visit, with a temporary filling keeping the site clean and comfortable until the next appointment.
(Root canal therapy is the long-term treatment in this instance.)
- The patient’s need to contemplate a decision on the longer-term treatment.
(A temporary fix allows the patient a little more time.)
- The patient making their first visit to a dentist, having broken a tooth or experienced discomfort. This patient might be feeling anxious (which is normal) and probably isn’t prepared for a lengthy stint in the dental chair. A temporary filling, sometimes performed without any local anaesthetic, can be an appropriate, gentle way to ease the new patient into ongoing treatment.
(At Core Dental, our first-time patients feel sufficiently reassured to book their next visit, when a permanent treatment can be provided.)
So, what should you do if you already have a temporary dental filling and it falls out?
Like any dental filling, a temporary filling can be replaced. Depending on your circumstances, though, your dentist may advise that the time is right for the appropriate longer-term treatment.
Regardless, it is important to have your tooth reassessed promptly after the loss of a temporary filling. Failure to act quickly could result in:
- further deterioration of the tooth, creating a more serious problem and probably necessitating a more expensive fix (a larger filling or a crown)
- fracture of the tooth, as the remaining tooth structure can be quite brittle (some fractures can result in the tooth being un-restorable, calling for an extraction. You and your dentist would then need to consider what to do about the gap. Depending on the importance of the tooth’s function, an implant or a bridge might be discussed.)
- sharp edges of the tooth rubbing on your cheek, tongue or lip, causing annoyance and possibly producing a traumatic ulcer.
In a nutshell, if you lose a temporary dental filling, there is no need to panic. Just call your dentist as soon as possible and make an appointment to have the situation addressed.
Dr Marcus Ford
General Dental Care