Does Getting Fillings Hurt?

Going to the dentist can be a frightening experience for a lot of people, especially when they have worries about their oral hygiene. 

Does Getting Fillings Hurt?

Everyone has heard the rumours and horror stories about dental nightmares – of mean dentists, painful procedures, and the various tools, implements, and needles a dentist might use to rectify your cavities.

The thought of someone (professional or not) drilling your teeth is not a pleasant one, but just what exactly is the procedure for a modern filling, and do they really hurt as much as people think? 

Dental Fillings: The Facts

Dental restoration and maintenance have been a commonly practised phenomenon for thousands of years. 


Mummies in Ancient Egypt have been found with intricate, early examples of braces. Even our more primitive ancestors had ways and means of removing troublesome, painful teeth without causing undue harm to the patient. 

Even fillings, which on the surface seem very modern, have a long and storied history that spans thousands of years, with early examples being found in Ancient Pakistan, dating between 7000-9000 years old. 

It wasn’t until the 19th century, however, that different kinds of metals began to be used as dental fillings.

These often included gold, silver, tin, and cheaper metals and were a way of repairing cavities, alleviating pain, and preventing bacteria from further damaging the teeth. 

These were softened and placed into the teeth. It wasn’t until the late 19th century that dental amalgams were invented, which could be melted down and more precisely moulded to the shape of the cavity – creating a tighter fit and a better representation of the person’s tooth. 

Dental Fillings: The Process

The process itself is fairly simple but consists of a few steps that are integral to restoring the tooth’s structural integrity. 

Tooth Preparation

Before it can be filled, the tooth needs to be prepared. This process usually involves drilling into the affected area using a dental handpiece, dental burs, a dental laser, or through the use of air abrasion. 

This eradicates the damaged or decaying unusable material and makes room for the metal or porcelain to be inserted. 

Materials Used

The dental restoration can be done using several methods, including gold, porcelain, dental composites (resins), glass ionomer cement (dental cement), or amalgam – a metallic combination of liquid mercury and metals, which can be melted down and formed into the shape of the tooth preparation. 

While the metals used are considered fairly soft, once hardened, they have a high melting point, which makes them perfect for use within the human mouth.

Humans aren’t capable of generating the temperatures needed to melt or warp the metals, nor can they safely consume anything that would be. 

These materials are also strong and hard-wearing enough to stand up against tough foods, cleaning, and general wear and tear.  

Dental Restoration

When it comes to repairing the tooth, there are two kinds of restorative processes – intracoronal and extracoronal. 

‘Coronal’ is derived from ‘corona’ (the Spanish word for ‘crown’) and refers to the external shell of the tooth itself. 

Intracoronal restoration is when there is sufficient material inside of the tooth itself upon which to form the filling.

Alternatively, extracoronal restoration takes place when there is insufficient crown material left within which to fill the tooth.

In this case, aesthetic and functional prosthetics are used, such as crowns, onlays, and veneers. 



Before a tooth is filled, a dentist will consider the viability of the process to the patient’s health and well-being. 

First, they will consider the amount of decay present in the tooth.

If the decay is minor, they will likely fill the tooth and clean the area.

However, if the decay is severe, then they may opt to simply pull the tooth out or perform a root canal treatment. 

Secondly, they will consider whether the tooth has enough structural integrity left to support the work they are planning to do.

Whilst enamel is one of the hardest substances in the human body, it can be brittle when unsupported – something that could make a filling futile in the long run. 

Dental Fillings: Do They Hurt? 

But the question remains – does it hurt to get a filling? Ultimately this depends on the depth and severity of the decay. 

If the decay is near the gum line, then the filling will usually be more unpleasant, as the proximity to the nerves of the gum makes it more sensitive. However, surface decay is usually fairly painless and simple to deal with. 

Pain Relief

However, while historic dentistry might have been something to fear, modern practices rely on numbing agents and various forms of pain relief to make it as pleasant and painless for the patient as possible. 

The most common types of pain relief are: 

  • Lidocaine – this can be a numbing gel or an injected anaesthetic and is one of the most commonly used substances for pain relief. 
  • Benzocaine – This is a numbing gel used in adults and children over the age of 2. 
  • Epinephrine – This is an ingredient found in some injections, which can prolong the feeling and effects of an anaesthetic. 
  • Nitrous Oxide – otherwise known as ‘laughing gas’, nitrous oxide is generally used for fear and anxiety, and induces a dopey, relaxed feeling in the patient. 

Final Thoughts

And there we have it, everything you need to know about modern dental fillings, and how they are designed to ease your pain, stop decay, and improve your smile. 

If you think you need a filling, or if you are experiencing any fear or anxiety surrounding the procedure, then speak to your dentist.

They are well practised in treating nervous patients, and they will be able to put your mind at ease in no time.

Andrew Kemp
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