Are you experiencing tingling in your teeth when you eat something hot or cold that lingers after you’re done? Or maybe it’s a serious pain inside one or some of your teeth that won’t go away no matter what you do. While both sensations sound fairly different, they are both symptoms of a condition called pulpitis. Pulpitis can either be reversible or irreversible depending on the extent of the underlying problem, but both will require treatment to lessen the risk factors for advanced decay.
What is Pulpitis?
Inside of your teeth is a soft, spongy material called the pulp, which surrounds the sensitive inner nerve and contains the blood supply for the teeth. Pulpitis is caused when bacteria gain access to the pulp, causing infection and swelling. Because the pulp is contained by the tooth, the swelling results in pressure on the nerve and subsequent pain.
If the inflammation is mild enough, the condition is referred to as reversible pulpitis and can be treated with medication and other less invasive remedies. In the case of reversible pulpitis, the affected tooth can be saved.
Irreversible pulpitis means that the pulp has been too affected to be saved, and you may have a dying tooth. When this happens, the pain from the infection may cease, but the dead tissue can remain infected and may cause an abscess in the affected tooth. Without treatment, bacteria from this infection can spread to other teeth, the jaw, or—in extreme cases—even the brain.
What are the Causes and Symptoms?
Pulpitis is caused when bacteria penetrate the enamel and dentin (the layer of the tooth underneath the hard enamel) and access the pulp. This can happen several different ways including:
Cavities are the most common cause of pulpitis and are caused by not brushing or flossing frequently enough, a diet high in sugars, or not seeing your dentist for frequent examination. Cavities can grow large enough to expose the pulp if untreated.
Injuries to the Teeth
Dental trauma from sports, accidents or physical violence can dislodge or even crack the tooth, resulting in the exposure of the pulp inside. While these are the most extreme examples, cracked teeth can be caused by something as simple as biting down on something hard, or continuous grinding of the teeth—a condition called bruxism.
Certain dental procedures like crowns or fillings can result in reversible pulpitis after treatment due to the temporary exposure of the pulp or incomplete healing of the original dental work. If left untreated, the condition can worsen into irreversible pulpitis.
Symptoms of pulpitis can vary depending on the extent of the infection, but the most common one is pain or sensitivity inside the tooth. This can either manifest as sharp, severe pain when exposed to heat or cold, or a mild, dull ache that comes and goes or remains constant. As the infection spreads, the pulp can eventually die altogether, meaning that the pain you were feeling may subside. While this can be a relief, it also means that the tooth is beyond saving and the infection remains uncontrolled.
Other symptoms of tooth pulp infection might include swelling around the face or jaw, fever, headache, or feelings of pressure in the sinuses. These are signs of the body attempting to fight the infection present in your mouth.
Treating and Preventing Pain from Reversible Pulpitis
If your dentist identifies the pulpitis as reversible, the symptoms can usually be relieved by treating the underlying condition. For example, if the pulpitis is caused by a cavity, your dentist can remove the decay with a simple filling procedure.
Pain symptoms can also be managed with over-the-counter medications—per the direction of your dentist—and special numbing tooth gels that penetrate the tooth and reach the affected nerve.
Treatment Options for Irreversible Pulpitis
Irreversible pulpitis requires more extensive treatment and may require the attention of a specialist, such as an endodontist. One of the most common and effective procedures is a root canal treatment, which will completely remove the infected pulp. Afterward, the now-hollow tooth will be sterilized, filled with an inert material, and sealed. In worst cases scenarios, the infected tooth will need to be extracted to prevent the spread of the infection to the surrounding teeth or other facial structures.
Pulpitis can be painful and potentially dangerous if left untreated, but the good news is that the condition is almost entirely preventable with the right kind of foresight and some basic preparedness. By following a daily oral healthcare routine including brushing, flossing, using a fluoride mouthwash, and using a mouthguard or other protective gear when engaging in physical activity, you can substantially lower the risk factors associated with contracting pulpitis.
If you do contract reversible pulpitis, it’s also important to schedule an appointment with your dentist to seek treatment before it progresses into irreversible pulpitis. If you’re looking for advice about previously diagnosed pulpitis, or are currently experiencing tooth pain, call and make an appointment with the experts at Advanced Endodontics of Nevada for a consultation and find options for treatment.