If you have a severely decayed tooth, your dentist will do whatever they can to save it. Sometimes, the best option is a root canal, but in other cases, they may recommend a treatment called a pulp cap. Pulp cap treatment involves a component called a sedative filling. Here's how this filling can help stop the decaying process and make a damaged tooth healthy again.
Understanding Tooth Decay
When bacteria and plaque accumulate in the mouth, they can damage the outermost portion of the teeth known as the enamel. This results in a hole in the tooth, or a cavity. If a cavity isn't treated promptly by a dentist, the bacteria can penetrate even deeper into the next layer of the tooth, called the dentin. This layer of the tooth bridges the gap between the enamel and the pulp, which is the tooth's nerve center. You don't want tooth decay to reach the pulp, because it can destroy the tooth's nerve tissue and cause pain. If the decay has reached this inner portion of the tooth, you may need a root canal or a tooth extraction.
If the dentin is damaged but the decay has barely reached the pulp, a dentist may restore the tooth with a pulp cap. Dentin is remarkable because, with the placement of a pulp cap, it can repair itself and create new, healthy dentin, according to a study published in Dental Clinics of North America. If your dentist is able to repair the dentin and keep the decay from further damaging the tooth, you might avoid a root canal procedure.
Sedative Fillings and Pulp Caps
When tooth decay has just reached or nearly reached the pulp, your dentist may choose to place a sedative material on the tooth as part of a pulp cap procedure, as reported in a study by the Ukrainian Medical Stomatological Academy. The sedative filling protects the pulp from bacteria invasion and helps reduce the effects of hot and cold temperatures on the sensitive area of exposed nerves. Within a month on average, the repaired dentin will begin to form a new barrier between the exposed tooth surface and the inner pulp material.
In the first step of the pulp cap procedure, the dentist will drill the cavity to remove the decay and prepare it for the filling, according to the Bulletin of Biology and Medicine study. Then, they will clean the area and coat the region closest to the pulp with the sedative material to protect it from infection. Finally, a temporary or permanent filling will be placed to strengthen the tooth and allow the patient to chew and bite normally.
Pulp Cap Materials
The sedative filling helps aid in the dentin repair process and soothe the tooth's exposed nerve center. Dentists may use a material called mineral trioxide aggregate (MTA) for this purpose, as it is a strong sealant and has antibacterial properties, according to the Dental Clinics of North America study. Alternatively, a dentist may choose to fill the tooth with a calcium hydroxide material, which is also antibacterial and is especially helpful in forming reparative dentin. There are advantages and disadvantages to each material, so your dentist will provide guidance on which option is best for you.
The materials used in a pulp cap are specifically chosen to help restore the dentin and prevent further tooth decay. They differ from the permanent material that will strengthen your tooth permanently and allow you to chew. Permanent fillings may be composed of a composite resin material, dental amalgam or gold, states the American Dental Association.
It's important to visit your dentist twice a year to both prevent and detect tooth decay before it can damage the pulp. Coupled with a thorough oral hygiene routine of brushing twice a day and flossing daily, you can ensure your teeth remain healthy.