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Definition of Pulpitis

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Updated May 26, 2009

Definition:

Pulpitis is a condition in which the pulp (nerve) of the tooth becomes inflamed, causing pain and pressure in the tooth. There are varying degrees of pulpitis, from mild to severe.

When the pulp becomes inflamed, pressure in the pulp chamber affects the nerve and connective tissue in the tooth. Extreme cases of pulpitis may result in a phenomenon called referred pain, causing pain from the pulpitis to be detected in unrelated areas of the face and mouth, ultimately making it difficult for the patient and the dentist to pinpoint the exact tooth causing the pain.

Causes of Pulpitis

Pulpitis may be caused by the following, although causes are not limited to:
  • Tooth decay that has penetrated through the enamel and dentin layers of the tooth
  • Trauma to the tooth caused by forces from grinding, clenching, and/or injury to the tooth
  • Thermal irritation from numerous dental procedures preformed on a specific tooth
  • Restorations that replace large sections of natural tooth structure
  • Bacterial infection that has invaded the pulp chamber
  • Infection from a dental abscess

Types of Pulpitis

There are two types of pulpitis:

  1. Reversible Pulpitis - Depending on the cause of the inflammation and the extent of the pulp exposure, pulpitis may be reversed when the cause of the pulpitis has been removed and the tooth is repaired. Certain medications may be used during restorative procedures in an effort to keep the tooth vital (alive).

  2. Irreversible Pulpitis - The cause of the pulpitis has caused irreversible damage to the nerve, therefore resulting in the need for root canal therapy (RCT). When completed, RCT will restore normal tooth function and relieve pain from the inflammation of the nerve.
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