Each of your 28-32 teeth has one or more “canals” which contain a blood supply and nerves, encased in the root of your tooth. The tissue found inside the canal is the pulp. The pulp consists of living blood vessels, connective tissue, and large nerves. The tooth pulp has many jobs: supply nutrients to your teeth and protect your teeth from potential dangers: extreme temperatures, cavities, and trauma and regenerate dentin. When the pulp is damaged and unable to heal itself, the pulp begins to break down, and bacteria will multiply within the pulp chamber. The bacteria and other pulp remnants can cause an infection or an abscessed tooth. Let’s learn more about the functions of tooth pulp.
Photo Courtesy of Ken Hub
Tooth Pulp Important Functions
The pulp has numerous essential duties, including:
- Sensory function: Pain from trauma to the dentin and or the pulp, variations in temperature, and pressure caused by stimulation of the pulp.
- Production of dentin: The pulp is responsible for the generation of dentin. In response to trauma, the pulp produces secondary dentin, known as reparative dentin.
- Nourishment: The pulp contains blood vessels that keep blood flowing preventing the tooth from becoming brittle by keeping your teeth moisturized and nourished.
Dental Pulp Disease and Tooth Decay
If you don’t sustain healthy oral health practices, including brushing and flossing routinely, plaque can form and lead to cavities. If left untreated, a dental cavity can form ultimately negatively affect the soft center (or pulp) of your tooth.
Diet: Watch Your Sugars and Snacks!
Decrease the amount and frequency of sugary food and drinks to reduce the amount of time the teeth your teeth are under attack from plaque acids. Skip snacks between meals to allow the teeth time to recover. If you do eat snacks regularly, make sure to rinse your mouth with water, milk or mouthwash.
Oral Hygiene: Beat the Plaque Build-up
Brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, floss your teeth and rinsing with a mouthwash. A quality at-home oral hygiene routine combined with regular dental cleanings will help reduce plaque buildup.
Regular Check-ups with Your Dentist
Plaque doesn’t just decay your teeth; it also damages your gums when it builds up below the gum line. Early diagnoses and planning during a dental cleaning and checkup with your dentist are vital in preventing gum disease which may lead to tooth loss. Cavities need to be treated as soon as possible to prevent the damage to the tooth pulp
Symptoms of Pulp Diseases
Depending on the type of pulp disease, symptoms may differ in severity and can include:
- Experiencing pain in a tooth or teeth when eating sweet, hot, or cold foods or drinks
- Immediate, sharp pain in the mouth
- Infection in the mouth
Types of Pulp Disease
There are several different types of pulp diseases, including:
- Reversible pulpitis, or mild inflammation of the pulp. Symptoms typically include pain when eating or drinking sweet, hot, or cold foods.
- Irreversible pulpitis, or severe inflammation of the pulp. Symptoms include sudden intense pain. Left untreated, extensive gum and connective tissue infection. Irreversible pulpitis is treated with a root canal procedure. If that doesn’t work, your dentist may have to remove the tooth.
- Dental pulp calcification (also known as dental pulp stones). The hardening, or calcification, of pulp tissue, resulting in hypersensitivity and extreme pain because the dental nerves become compressed. A root canal is usually needed to clear away the hardened mass.
- Dental pulp exposure. Occurs when damage to the external covering of the tooth occurs, such as a cavity or crack in the tooth, exposes the usually protected pulp to bacteria and irritating food particles. Pain is the most frequent symptom, and without proper dental care, a mild infection can progress into a severe abscess. Depending on the degree of pulp exposure, a filling, root-canal procedure, or even tooth extraction may be required.
Pulp Disease Treatment: Root Canal Therapy
In situations where the pulp cannot heal itself, then the only way to prevent the infection from spreading is to repair and save the tooth with root canal therapy.
A root canal therapy requires one or more office visits and here is what you can expect:
- First visit. Take an X-ray to see the shape of the root canals and determine if they are any indications of an infection in the surrounding bone. Next step is to remove diseased pulp is removed and the access hole, the root canal, is cleaned from side to side and enlarged. Sodium hypochlorite may be used to flush away debris and disinfect the area. A temporary filling may be placed in the hole to keep contaminant out in-between visits.
- Second visit. The temporary filling is removed, and a permanent filling is put in its place.
- Final visit. There may be a need for further restoration of the tooth, and a crown or crown and post may be placed on the tooth to reinforce the tooth and make it stronger.