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Pulp Capping: What Is It And What Are Dental Treatment Options?

You may own a baseball cap, have read about ice caps or even indulged in a night cap, but you may not be quite as familiar with pulp caps. Pulp capping is a dental procedure frequently done to prevent the need for a future root canal treatment. Under what circumstances may your dentist recommend a pulp cap for you or your child?

Dental Pulp Treatment

Your teeth are made up of a hard outer layer of enamel, which covers a softer, bulky material called dentin. Inside the dentin lies the pulp, a soft non-calcified tissue, consisting of blood vessels, nerves and connective tissue, explains the American Dental Association. When the pulp of a tooth becomes infected due to bacterial exposure or damaged due to trauma, a root canal treatment is essential to avoid losing the tooth.

However, a dentist may choose to treat healthy pulp tissue with a direct or an indirect pulp cap to avoid a root canal treatment down the road. Or in the case of a damaged baby tooth, pulp capping can buy time until the healthy, permanent tooth erupts to replace it.

Indirect Pulp Caps

When repairing a tooth with deep carious lesions, it is not unusual that the dentist gets so close to the pulp tissue that they cannot risk removing all of the decay without exposing the pulp. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) says that as long as the pulp is vital and asymptomatic, leaving some decay near the pulp but then covering the area with a bio-compatible material, such as dentin bonding agents, resin glass ionomers, or calcium hydroxide, can stimulate the repair of the dentin and inhibit further decay. This incomplete removal of decay is not detrimental as long as the filling material completely seals the dentin from the bacterial environment of the oral cavity. The AAPD and the American Association of Endodontists recommend indirect pulp capping for primary teeth and young permanent teeth.

Direct Pulp Caps

A direct pulp cap is done on permanent teeth when the removal of deep decay results in exposing the pulp. If the pulp appears infected or symptomatic, the dentist may decide a root canal is the best treatment option. In situations where the pulp is vital and healthy, capping exposed pulp tissue with a material, such as calcium hydroxide, and providing a good seal with the filling material may solve the problem and prevent the need for further endodontic treatment.

The only time the AAPD recommends a direct pulp cap on a primary tooth is when the pulp is exposed due to mechanical trauma. If it is exposed during the removal of decay, a procedure called a pulpotomy (partial removal of the pulp) is performed instead.

Prevent the Need for Pulp Capping

The best way for you and your family to avoid ever needing a pulp cap or root canal treatment is to implement and adhere to the following basics of good dental care, making dental decay something you only read about.

  • Brush twice a day, using fluoride toothpaste and a soft-bristled toothbrush.
  • Floss between your teeth daily.
  • Swish with a mouthwash that offers 12-hour protection against germs even after drinking and eating, like Colgate Total Advanced Pro-Shield mouthwash.
  • Eat healthy foods and limit sugary snacks and drinks.
  • Visit your dentist at least twice a year for dental exams and cleanings.
Even though you and your family are working hard to maintain healthy mouths, it's good to know that should you ever need it, pulp capping may help keep your tooth's pulp alive and well.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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