Last month, my dentist filled two cavities. While removing the decay from the third tooth, he mistakenly exposed the pulp. He stopped trying to remove the decay and used a pulp cap to avoid root canal treatment. Before that visit, I had not heard of a pulp cap, but I had to decide rather quickly because the pulp was exposed. My dentist explained the procedure to me and e-mailed some material to me. I want another dentist’s opinion on this, though. How do I know that the pulp cap will work? Are there any symptoms I should watch that might signal cap failure and that I will need a root canal anyway? Also, how long does this take? I was supposed to begin teeth whitening in two weeks and have it completed before my wedding. Thank you. Cecelia from Springfield, MA
Thank you for choosing our office for your question.
We will give you and our readers some background on a pulp cap.
What Is a Direct Pulp Cap?
A direct pulp cap is a procedure to protect entirely or partially exposed tooth pulp. The process allows the dentin (the layer beneath tooth enamel) to grow back and cover the pulp. It can save you time and money and help you avoid root canal treatment.
When Do You Need a Pulp Cap?
You might need a pulp cap if tooth pulp (living tissue and nerves) is exposed during decay removal. Your dentist may be able to prevent damage with a pulp cap if the pulp is not infected. Saving tooth pulp can help avoid the need for root canal treatment.
What Is the Pulp Cap Procedure?
During a pulp cap procedure, a dentist will take these steps::
- Remove tooth decay
- Apply a cotton pellet to the tooth to stop bleeding
- Clean and dry the tooth
- Ensure the pulp is healthy
- Apply a biocompatible material over the pulp to seal out the infection
- Apply and bond composite filling in the tooth
If a dentist leaves decay in the tooth, it can grow slowly and infect the tooth eventually. If you are not experiencing any symptoms, we recommend not doing anything to the tooth. And if you remain symptom-free, your dentist can x-ray the tooth to see if it is still healthy. A toothache, sensitivity, or swollen gums are symptoms and signs of an infection leading to root canal treatment. Otherwise, your tooth should be healthy. After your tooth begins to heal, your dentist can give you an estimate of when you can start whitening your teeth.
Dr. Duane Delaune, a Metairie, Louisiana, accredited cosmetic dentist, sponsors this post.