Fillings or restorations restore the form, function and aesthetics of damaged or decayed teeth. Once a restoration is placed, care should be taken to maintain its integrity. Scroll down to Step 1 below for details on immediate after care and lifelong habits you can adopt to ensure the longevity of your filling.
Know what type of filling you have. Different types of fillings take longer to set and require special care. What's more, some last longer than others. Here's the gist : Amalgam fillings (they're silver) take at least 24 hours to set. They may need reshaping after initially being placed. They last on average about 12 years. Glass ionomers start hardening in the first three hours, but take 48 hours to seem fully hardened. Even then, a week is necessary for complete hardening. Composites (white fillings) 24-48 hours. They last on average around 5 years, depending on care. They are also prone to staining, but look natural when new. The length of life for your cavity will greatly depend on how you care for your teeth -- not just what type of cavity it is.
Do not eat or drink anything until the numbness wears off. This is to be safe more than anything. You want to avoid hot and cold food and drinks, food that's sharp, hard, crunchy, or sticky-- so really, it's best to avoid pretty much everything. Talk to your dentist about what he thinks is okay for your specific situation. It is recommended that you take some ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil, 1-2 tablets every 4-6 hours as needed) before the anesthetic completely wears off. This will help with any swelling or pain at the injection sites where the anesthetic was administered.
Watch the temperature of your food and drinks. If local anesthesia has been administered to place the filling, then make sure you do not eat or drink anything hot till the effect wears off. Chances of burning the lips, mouth or tongue are high if your mouth is numb. Children especially end up biting or chewing their cheek mucosa or tongue while attempting to eat before the anesthetic wears off. Hot/cold temperatures make the filling material shrink or expand. This forces changes in the filling adaptability, shape, and also affects the strength of the material. It can also result in leaky margins and improper borders or contours in the filling.
Chew on the other side of your mouth. The last thing you want is your filling to fracture. Filling material will be under its setting process even when it feels completed. When you chew foods, it causes stress on the fillings, resulting in chips or cracks. In general, it is just best to avoid chewing on this side when your filling is new.
Avoid hard or sticky foods. Try to avoid those foods that could cause potential problems to your fillings. Biting hard foods will fracture your filling -- fillings aren't as strong as your natural teeth. As for sticky foods, they stick to the filled tooth surfaces for a long time and make the tooth more susceptible to further cavity production. Food stuck in between the teeth often makes the filling weak and puts you at higher risk for more cavities. To avoid this, rinse your mouth out after every snack or meal and use fluoridated mouthwash after brushing and flossing.
Check for high points. Bite gently and see if you feel any high points that prevent you from closing your mouth properly or biting correctly. High points in a filling generally settle down after 24 hours but can be troublesome if left unattended when they are present. They can cause problems like pain, inability to eat on the side of the filling, fracture of the filling, earache, clicking in the temporomandibular joint etc. It is very simple to get rid of them in the dentist’s office. Articulating or carbon paper is placed between the upper and lower teeth where the high point is felt and the patient is asked to bite on it. Any premature contacts or high points get highlighted on the restoration and can easily be reduced. For silver amalgam fillings, the final finishing and polishing is recommended after 24 hours. So, do go back to your dentist so that any high points or rough edges can be taken care of.
Avoid mouthwashes that contain alcohol. Those like chlorhexidine have ethanol that plasticizes the matrix of the resin material, accelerating its wear rate. Some of the chlorhexidine mouthwashes available in the market can discolor and stain the resin fillings. Non-colored toothpaste or mouthwashes should be used instead.