Inflammation of the pulp, the living core of a tooth
The soft centre (pulp) of a tooth contains the blood vessels and nerves. Inflammation of the pulp is called pulpitis. It may be caused by advanced tooth decay (see Dental caries) that invades the pulp. Pulpitis may also develop if the pulp becomes exposed in a fractured tooth. Some people grind their teeth during sleep, which may inflame the pulp.
There are two varieties: reversible and irreversible. In reversible pulpitis, the decay has not affected the entire pulp, and the remaining tissue with its nerves and blood vessels can be saved. Left untreated, reversible pulpitis may eventually become irreversible, in which decay is so severe that the remaining pulp, nerves, and vessels die. Eventually, the tooth may become discoloured (see Discoloured teeth).
The main symptom of pulpitis is toothache. If it only occurs while eating or drinking, pulpitis is likely to be reversible. In irreversible pulpitis, pain tends to be more constant until the pulp dies. You may also notice pain if you tap the tooth with a finger. Left untreated, a dental abscess may form.
Your dentist will examine your teeth and may take an X-ray to look for decay (see Dental checkup). To treat reversible pulpitis, he or she may remove the decayed area and fill the tooth to prevent further damage (see Tooth filling). If the pulpitis is irreversible, you will probably need root canal treatment, in which the pulp is removed and the root canals are filled.
From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.