Pulpitis occurs when the innermost tissue in your tooth becomes inflamed. Bacteria that enter your tooth through a cavity or crack cause the infection. Early pulpitis is reversible. Without treatment, the inflammation will get worse and you’ll need a root canal or tooth extraction. Good dental hygiene and routine dental visits can prevent pulpitis.
Pulp is the soft inner tissue of your teeth. It contains nerves, blood vessels and connective tissue. The pulp supplies blood and nutrients to the hard, outer layers of your teeth to keep them healthy.
Pulpitis is an inflammation of the pulp. It usually happens when there’s an irritation inside a tooth due to things such as grinding or a cavity.
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There are two types of pulpitis. Dentists classify them based on the extent of the infection:
Pulpitis is very common. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates about 1 in 4 adults between the ages of 20 and 64 have untreated cavities that can lead to pulpitis.
Symptoms of reversible pulpitis include:
With irreversible pulpitis, you may experience:
If pulp necrosis occurs and the nerve tissue dies, you may not have any sensitivity to heat, cold or sweets. But your tooth may still hurt when your dentist taps it.
The hard enamel of your tooth protects the pulp. If the enamel becomes damaged, it could lead to pulpitis. Tooth damage can occur from:
One of the main ways that dentists diagnose pulpitis is by assessing the sensitivity of your tooth. Types of sensitivity tests include:
Your dentist will also take dental X-rays to look for defects in the tooth and signs of infection.
For reversible pulpitis, your dentist will try to remove the cause. Often, this involves the removal of the decay and sealing the tooth with a normal filling.
Irreversible pulpitis requires more intensive treatment to remove the pulp tissue. Treatment options include:
Antibiotics aren’t a treatment for pulpitis, but they may help prevent the problem from progressing into an infection if there’s a delay in your treatment.
Left untreated, pulpitis can spread, leading to infection or an abscess. This can cause:
If the area does become infected, it can also spread to your jawbone (osteomyelitis) and the soft tissues in your head, neck and chest. If not treated, these infections can be life-threatening.
Good oral hygiene is the best way to prevent pulpitis. This consists of:
Also, make sure to let your dentist know right away if you’re having any tooth pain or sensitivity.
Pulpitis is highly treatable but can become problematic if it continues and causes an infection. In the past, people frequently died from tooth infections that spread. But today, advancements in antibiotic therapy, imaging technology and surgical treatments have greatly improved the prognosis of these infections.
Talk to a dentist if you have any tooth pain or notice any new sensitivity to hot, cold or sweet foods or beverages. With early treatment, you’ll spend less time in a dentist’s chair and be less likely to develop a more serious condition.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Pulpitis is an inflammation of the pulp, the soft inner tissue of your teeth. Pulpitis is reversible if you identify it early. Your dentist will treat the cause and expect the symptoms to resolve. The main sign that the pulpitis has progressed to irreversible pulpitis is a lingering sensitivity to heat or cold. In this case, you’ll need a root canal or tooth extraction. Let your dentist know right away if you develop any new sensitivities in your teeth. With daily brushing and flossing and routine visits to the dentist, you can keep your teeth healthy and prevent pulpitis.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/18/2022.
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