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What Is Pulpitis and How Do You Treat It?

As a parent, you work hard to make sure that your child stays on top of their oral health habits — that means brushing, flossing, and eating a mouth-healthy diet. However, sometimes children develop dental issues despite your best efforts. If your child is experiencing tooth pain, pulpitis may be the culprit. It may sound like a scary word, but pulpitis can be treated. You may be wondering, “What is pulpitis, anyway?” Read on to find out just what this condition is and how to treat it.

What Is Pulpitis?

Pulpitis is more commonly known as a toothache, and it results when there is an inflammatory reaction inside the pulp of the tooth. The pulp of a tooth is a spongy, soft tissue of nerves and blood vessels in the interior of the tooth, and the pulp is responsible for providing nutrients to the tooth. If bacteria infects the pulp, the body responds with increased blood flow and enlarged blood vessels. This reaction works well in other parts of the body since pressure can dissipate into the surrounding soft tissues. However, the pulp isn’t like the rest of the body; it’s surrounded by the hard dentin of the teeth. With no room for the pressure to dissipate, the increased blood flow will result in pain.

There are two types of pulpitis, and the type that you have will influence how to treat pulpitis. In reversible pulpitis, the pulp is able to heal if the irritation is removed. In irreversible pulpitis, the pulp cannot heal and will require treatment.

What Is Pulpitis Caused By?

The causes of pulpitis can be varied, but most commonly, pulpitis results from dental caries or trauma to the tooth. The causes of reversible and irreversible pulpitis tend to differ in terms of their severity. Some of the causes of reversible pulpitis include:

  • Dental caries that haven’t reached the nerve of the tooth
  • Drilling done in preparation for procedures like crowns or fillings
  • Fracturing of the enamel
  • Having your roots scraped during a dental cleaning

Irreversible pulpitis, on the other hand, can be caused by

  • Decay or evacuation that occurs too close to the pulp
  • Increased or decreased blood flow to the pulp caused by trauma or orthodontic treatment
  • Deep dental caries that run into the pulp of the tooth

The cause of a case of pulpitis impacts the severity of the condition. When dental caries, fractures, or cracks extend deep enough that they impact the tooth’s root, this will result in more severe, potentially irreversible cases of pulpitis.

What Are the Symptoms of Pulpitis?

The symptoms of pulpitis vary depending on the type. Generally, you can detect reversible pulpitis if a tooth experiences pain when exposed to a hot, cold, or sweet stimulus that goes away after a few seconds.

Compared with the symptoms for reversible pulpitis, the symptoms of irreversible pulpitis are more severe and varied. There are many different symptoms, including:

  • Continuous tooth pain, usually dull or throbbing in nature
  • A tooth that hurts when touched
  • Prolonged pain or sensitivity after exposure to heat, cold, or sugar
  • Pain and sensitivity in the jaw around the tooth
  • Swelling of the jaw or face
  • Fever
  • Tooth pain so severe that it may awaken you at night
  • Tooth abscesses, in severe cases

Symptoms can vary depending on the type and severity of the pulpitis.

Treating Reversible Pulpitis

Treating Reversible Pulpitis

How to treat pulpitis depends on what type of pulpitis is present. Your child’s dentist will determine whether the pulpitis is reversible or irreversible through the administration of tests. Usually, a stimulus test is performed to see how the tooth responds to hot, cold, and sweet stimuli. Pain that fades quickly after stimuli are applied generally indicates the presence of reversible pulpitis.

Your dentist may also use an electrical pulp test to evaluate the health of the pulp. The dentist will put a drop of conducting paste on the to-be-tested tooth, and they will then use the tester to deliver small electrical currents to the tooth. If the pulp is normal, it will have a mild response to the current that does not linger once the test is removed. What is pulpitis’ response? If there is pulpitis, there will be a more intense, painful reaction to the electrical current compared with normal teeth. If the pain is mild and disappears after a few seconds, this generally indicates the presence of reversible pulpitis. If the test causes severe pain that lingers longer than 30 seconds, it is likely that the tooth has irreversible pulpitis. If the tooth does not react at all to the electrical currents, that means the pulp has likely necrotized.

What is pulpitis that is reversible? That means that the pulp’s inflammation is a response to an irritant. When that irritant is removed, the pulp will return to its normal, healthy state. Usually, reversible pulpitis results from dental caries. Your child’s dentist can remove any decay and apply a filling to the tooth, and the pulp’s inflammation will go away.

If left untreated, reversible pulpitis can often worsen into irreversible pulpitis. Make sure that if your child complains of tooth pain or sensitivity, you get them to a dentist right away.

Treating Irreversible Pulpitis

If a stimulus and/or electrical pulp tests reveals that your child’s tooth shows a prolonged painful reaction to stimuli, that means it is likely irreversible pulpitis. Your child’s dentist will likely perform x-rays to confirm the diagnosis. Treating irreversible pulpitis is more complicated than treating reversible pulpitis, and how to treat pulpitis of this kind requires pulp therapy or a root canal.

A root canal is performed on permanent, adult teeth to remove infected pulp. Your child will be sedated during the procedure, and a dam will be inserted around the tooth to keep the area free from saliva. The dentist will drill a small hole into the crown of the tooth. Using precise tools, they’ll remove the infected pulp and bacteria from the inside of the tooth. The dentist will then clean the inside of the tooth to ensure that no debris is left behind.

After the tooth is cleaned, the dentist will fill the now-hollow cavity with a material called gutta-percha combined with adhesive cement. Once the tooth is filled, the dentist will cap the tooth with a protective crown.

Pulp therapy is a similar procedure to a root canal, only pulp therapy is performed on your child’s baby teeth. Your child’s dentist will drill a hole in the tooth in order to remove the infected pulp and bacteria, just like in a root canal. However, in pulp therapy, the root of the tooth is left intact, whereas in a root canal, the root is removed along with the pulp. After pulp therapy, the tooth will be capped with a crown.

After treating pulpitis with pulp therapy or a root canal, some pain and discomfort will likely occur for a few days. This can be treated with over-the-counter pain medications like naproxen. Talk to your child’s dentist to see which pain reliever options will be best.

How to Prevent Pulpitis

What is pulpitis prevention? Since most cases of pulpitis result from dental caries, that means that preventing pulpitis is really an endeavor to prevent tooth decay. In order to keep your teeth healthy and free from caries, the most important thing to do is to follow proper oral hygiene practices. These include:

  • Brushing teeth twice a day, including the gums and tongue
  • Flossing once a day
  • Replacing your toothbrush every 3 months
  • Eating a healthy, balanced diet full of calcium and vitamins
  • Avoiding sugary, starchy foods
  • Visiting the dentist twice a year for regular cleanings
  • Asking your dentist about regular fluoride treatments
  • For children, considering the use of dental sealants

By doing all that you can to keep your teeth healthy, you’re also working to keep pulpitis at bay. Of course, not all pulpitis is preventable. If trauma occurs to your teeth, pulpitis may occur despite your best efforts.

Now that you know the answer to the question, “What is pulpitis?” you know what to look out for. If you notice that your child is experiencing tooth pain, sensitivity, or any other common symptoms, be sure to make an appointment with their dentist right away. If your child has reversible pulpitis, prompt treatment may prevent it from progressing to irreversible pulpitis. And if your child is already suffering from irreversible pulpitis, treating it as soon as possible will prevent them from possibly losing the tooth. In any case, the best way to prevent recurring cases of pulpitis is to ensure that your child maintains proper oral care that prevents caries from forming. Part of that routine includes biannual checkups and cleanings, so make your appointment with Children’s Dentistry today.