Oops, I Lost a Filling! What Now?

If you've ever had a cavity in your tooth, the dentist probably fixed it with a filling made of gold, silver, or tooth-colored composite material. While dental fillings are a simple and useful way of solving the problems caused by cavities, they aren't meant to last a lifetime. The longest-lasting fillings are those made of gold or silver-amalgam; they have a lifespan of 10 to 15 years. The lifespan of a composite filling is even shorter. That means that if you have fillings, at some point you're going to lose one, perhaps when you bite into something hard or sticky. Take a look at what you need to do when that happens.

Don't Swallow!

If at all possible, try not to swallow the tooth. This can be tough because fillings often fall out when you're eating. But if you feel the filling pull out of your tooth, you should be able to stop and find it. While swallowing a filling is unlikely to cause any stomach problems, you could accidentally inhale the filling into your lungs, and that would contaminate the usually sterile lung environment and could be potentially dangerous.

When you find the filling, don't try to put it back into your tooth; once it pulls it, you won't be able to put it back in and make it stay in place. Just throw the filling away. Then call your dentist to make an appointment to have the filling replaced.

Keep Your Teeth Clean

If you're lucky, you'll lose a filling during your dentist's office hours, and they'll be able to get you in for an appointment right away. The possibility of losing a filling is one reason why it's a good idea to have a dentist who has office hours on Saturday. However, if you lose the tooth at night or on a holiday, or if you're just too busy to stop what you're doing and go to the dentist immediately, then you'll need to take some extra steps to protect the tooth that lost the filling.

It's important to understand that a filling doesn't just fill a hole; it also keeps out bacteria and germs that could get into the cavity and cause an infection. As long as you're missing a filling, you're extra vulnerable to tooth infections, so you'll want to take extra care to keep your mouth clean. Use your tooth brush to gently clean inside the cavity as well as around it. You may also want to wash your mouth out with warm saltwater a few times a day.

Make Use of Temporary Fixes

If you have to wait more than a few hours to get your tooth filled, you may begin to notice pain or sensitivity in the affected tooth. Not only did the filling protect the interior of the tooth from germs, but it also blocked access to the nerves inside your tooth. With the filling missing, you may have exposed nerves that are irritated by your food, drinks, or just from being exposed to the air.

Avoiding food and drinks that are especially hot, cold, sweet, or spicy can help; extreme temperatures, sugar, and hot spices can all aggravate the teeth. However, you may also want to look into a temporary solution. Most drug stores sell emergency dental kits that contain temporary filling material that you can use to fill the cavity until you get to the dentist. If you're desperate and don't have a dental kit on hand, you can even cover the cavity with a piece of sugar-free gum temporarily—this will block the exposed nerves and lessen the sensitivity. Just be sure that the gum contains no sugar.

Regular dental visits can help prevent lost fillings because a dentist such as J Bryson McBratney can check for weakened fillings and strengthen them before they fall out. However, sometimes a lost filling is unavoidable. The best thing that you can do is see your dentist as quickly as possible to replace the filling and check to make sure any other fillings are stable.