Most people have heard of a dead tooth. But how can a tooth die?
Well, your teeth are alive! No, they don’t have personalities or complex thoughts, but teeth are kept alive by the health of the pulp. The pulp houses a network of nerves, blood vessels, and other tissues occupying a hollow central chamber that extends from the crown of the tooth to its roots.
In fact, there is a whole branch of dentistry specializing in preventing and treating pulp problems (endodontics).
The pulp nourishes the surrounding dentin. These cells also relay sensory information, which is why injury or damage near the pulp is painful.
So how can you damage your pulp?
The pulp can be damaged in a number of ways. Among the most common are undetected tooth decay and advanced periodontal (gum) disease.
Abrasion and erosion also can wear away the tooth’s hard outer layers, leaving the pulp vulnerable. The pulp may inadvertently be injured when your dentist grinds a tooth in preparation for a deep filling or restoration. And of course pulp trauma occurs when a tooth is broken or knocked loose.
Pulp damage can cause anything from tooth sensitivity, to complete nerve death of the tooth causing infection of the surrounding tissues. Symptoms vary according to the extent of the damage and can include pain, fever, prolonged sensitivity to hot or cold, swelling or tenderness of the gums, and cracked or discolored teeth.
Sensitivity doe not necessarily mean pulp damage, but it is a signal dentin has been exposed, allowing sensations of heat, cold, and irritation to reach the tooth’s nerves.
So, what can you do?
If you are experiencing symptoms more than just slight sensitivity, visit your dentist and explain your symptoms. If you explain your symptoms, your dentist can make recommendations to help with your sensitivity and will likely recommend one of the many types of toothpastes made for sensitive teeth. The effects of these products accrue over time, so it may take several brushings before you feel any relief. Also, active ingredients vary from brand to brand, so if one brand isn’t helpful, try another.
As an alternative, your dentist can apply a fluoride sealant to the crown of the tooth. The sealant covers any exposed dentin and should protect against sensitivity. If the discomfort is extremely bothersome, your dentist may suggest that you apply the fluoride to your teeth at home for several nights, using a specially made mouthpiece. If all else fails and you feel increasing pain, root canal therapy can resolve the problem.
Source: Dental Health for Adults: A Guide to Protecting Your Teeth and Gums. Copyright © by Harvard University. All rights reserved.