What exactly is the 'nerve' of the tooth?

We assume that if you have reached this entry it is because you have a minimum of interest in expanding your knowledge on the subject, so let us first clarify that what is commonly known as the 'nerve' of the tooth, is actually the dental pulp, and that they are not the same thing. 

In fact, the nerve is part of the pulp, hence the erroneous association. When you perform a root canal, you are actually emptying the pulp of the tooth, not 'killing the nerve'. But we will come back to that later. Let's start, as always, at the beginning:

What is (then) dental pulp?

The dental pulp is the soft tissue located inside the tooth, in what is known as the pulp cavity, and which extends into the root of the tooth as the root canal or root canal that opens into the tissue that supports the tooth, the periodontium. It contains the nerve, blood vessels and connective tissue. 

It could be called the 'heart of the tooth', as it is responsible for connecting the tooth to the body. 

Functions of the dental pulp

As we have said, the main function of the pulp is to serve as a link between the tooth and the body. It is in charge of 'giving life' to the tooth, which transmits sensations of cold or heat, pain, sensitivity... that is why after a root canal (at least a well performed one) the pain disappears. Although this also has something to do with the infection and we explain it in more detail in this article. 

In addition, the pulp is responsible for initiating the formation of the tooth, nourishing it until it is fully developed and forms dentine. 

Pulpal conditions

Although caries infection is undoubtedly the most common cause of pulp damage, there are also other processes that can adversely affect the dental pulp:

  • ChemicalsBoth by intoxication and dental abrasion. Some people even cause them to themselves by using homemade products or products that are not recommended for teeth whitening. 
  • PhysicistsThe most common are trauma or blows, which cause a fracture and affect the pulp. This can also occur in severe forms of untreated bruxism, as friction weakens the outer layer of the tooth. Although less frequent, damage can also occur due to changes in temperature or pressure (e.g. in divers), and in some cases electrical - in case of an accident and shock - or radioactive. 
  • InfectiousThe one we all know, the famous pulpitis, caused by caries. 

Whatever the cause, these conditions can have different degrees of severity, which will have different consequences, from increased tooth sensitivity to the total loss of the tooth due to necrosis, i.e. the death of the nerve. 

The way we can identify the severity of this injury is often through the patient's own pain. If it is a pain that appears only when eating very cold or very hot food, and disappears after exposure to these temperatures ceases, it is probably a mild injury. 

If, on the other hand, the pain is sharp, sudden and comes and goes, especially at bedtime, it is likely to be an irreversible injury. 

When it occurs due to a bacterial infection, i.e. caries, the pulp seeks an escape route through the tip of the affected tooth, thus managing to reach the gum, which causes the infection to move to the gum and causes outbreaks of pus, bone loss and the formation of an abscess. If not treated in time by endodontics, it can affect the rest of the teeth. 

We hope this has made it clear to you what we are really talking about when we talk about dental pulp or nerve. If you have any questions, you can contact us through the usual channels. 

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