Our rows of teeth may look indestructible from the outside, but they are more like a hard candy with a chewy center. The bones of our teeth encase bundles of nerves, soft tissue, and blood vessels known as dental pulp. If the outer part of the tooth is compromised, this soft center can become infected, developing into a condition called pulpitis. The first stage of this infection is called reversible pulpitis.
What is reversible pulpitis?
Reversible pulpitis is an infection of the nerves, blood vessels, and tissues in the center of our teeth. This can affect one or more teeth at a time, but reversible pulpitis is more likely to occur in one tooth.
There are many different causes of reversible pulpitis. Essentially, anything that can chip into the outside of the tooth, allowing bacteria to enter the dental pulp, can cause reversible pulpitis.
The most common causes of reversible pulpitis include:
- Trauma to the tooth or mouth
- Eating hard foods
- Breakdown of enamel
Trauma to the tooth or mouth
Trauma can include anything from accidents and injuries to other dental work.
If a tooth is hit or becomes cracked or opened, this can potentially allow bacteria to get in. In the case of dental work, your dentist may ask you to take an antibiotic prior to the work as a preventative measure. This is only done when your dentist believes you have a higher chance of infection due to other health conditions (e.g., diabetes or a compromised immune system).
If left untreated, cavity can dig deep into the tooth all the way to the center, causing this condition.
Eating hard foods
Prolonged eating of hard foods like pretzels and hard candy can not only cause cavity but also cracks and chips in the teeth that can allow bacteria to enter.
If it causes cavity, it can be also be a cause of reversible pulpitis. High fat, high sugar, and high acid diets are all culprits in dental infections.
Breakdown of enamel
At-home tooth whiteners and toothpastes may make your smile bright, but they can also permanently erode your tooth’s protective enamel. Excessive consumption of soda and juice also eats away the tooth enamel over time.
Warning signs of reversible pulpitis
Reversible pulpitis symptoms and warning signs include:
- Sensitivity to hot and cold
- Sensitivity to sweet things
- Pain when the tooth is pressed
Sensitivity to hot and cold
Just as an infected cut is tender and painful when touched, the dental pulp is more sensitive to stimuli like hot and cold. Your morning coffee or after-dinner ice cream may cause pain in the early stages of reversible pulpitis.
Sensitivity to sweetness
Maybe it’s the way your tooth is getting back at you for one sugary snack too many, but reversible pulpitis often comes with a sensitivity to sweets that can cause pain when they are consumed.
Sensitivity and pain with pressure
This condition can cause pain whenever you apply pressure to the tooth. Unlike the constant dull ache of irreversible pulpitis, reversible pulpitis pain generally diminishes when you release pressure.
What’s the difference between reversible and irreversible pulpitis?
If pulpitis could be considered in degrees, reversible pulpitis would be the lesser of the two evils. Reversible pulpitis is generally considered very treatable in that the tooth can be saved. With irreversible pulpitis, the dental pulp is so infected that the nerves begin to die, resulting in a necrotic tooth.
While the causes of both are similar, one of their major symptoms can help determine whether the tooth has reversible or irreversible pulpitis. Irreversible pulpitis comes with a steady, constant aching pain, but reversible pulpitis pain is only temporary. Once the stimulus is removed (pressure, hot, or cold) the pain subsides within a second or two.
Another major difference between reversible pulpitis and irreversible pulpitis are their treatment options. Irreversible pulpitis treatment options include root canal and possible tooth extraction, but reversible pulpitis treatment options are much less dramatic.
How to treat reversible pulpitis
Reversible pulpitis treatment options offer a good possibility of stopping the infection in its tracks. The most common treatments tackle the source of the infection and take steps to prevent further damage.
Cavity removal and filling
For reversible pulpitis due to cavity, your dentist will first remove the cavity to eliminate the source of infection. They will then fill in the hole created by the removed dental material and seal it to keep bacteria out.
For teeth with multiple cavities or cavities that are exposed nearly to the tooth roots, your dentist may opt for a crown. In this procedure, your dentist will remove majority of the tooth, leaving the root as a foundation for the crown. Your dentist will take an impression of your tooth and create a temporary crown. They’ll then craft the permanent crown. Once the permanent crown is in place, they’ll affix it with a thin, strong layer of dental cement. Finally, they’ll file it down to ensure an even, natural biting surface.
If diet and the use of at-home whiteners and pastes caused your condition, your dentist will also advise lifestyle changes to prevent reversible pulpitis in other teeth. If it’s due to cavity, they may also give you a refresher on proper brushing and flossing techniques.
In some cases, your dentist may prescribe antibiotics either before or after treatment for this condition. This is most often the case when there is an underlying health issue that compromises your ability to fight infection.
What’s the reversible pulpitis recovery time?
Recovery times vary depending on the extent of the infection and treatment method. For cavity, you may experience a few hours of numbness in the mouth, lips, and face after treatment. However, post-treatment pain and swelling should be minimal (and you can easily treat it with ibuprofen).
A crown is a little more involved and requires two visits to the dentist, but overall the recovery time is also just a couple days.
With both treatments, you may want to eat softer foods for a few days afterwards. Make sure to follow your dentist’s recovery directions.
Early diagnosis and treatment can help keep reversible pulpitis from becoming irreversible. Contact your AZ Dentist for a complete evaluation and treatment at one of our Phoenix area dental clinics!