When a patient has a cavity that runs exceptionally deep into the tooth, exposing the tooth pulp (never), a root canal is most often required to correct this painful problem. However, a recent study has shown that the tooth can be recovered and rehabilitated by capping a small portion of the exposed pulp with calcium hydroxide and sealing it.
The study has found this method to have a high rate of success: fourteen studies had success rates reaching 90%.
The procedure of pulp capping is nothing new, but outside of this study, pulp capping is only used in certain situations. If the exposed pulp is slight with light bleeding and the tissue surrounding the exposure is healthy, then a dentist can opt for a pulp cap. For any other, more serious situations–such as a tooth abscess (which indicates that the nerve has been dead for some time) or a wide exposure of the pulp–a root canal or an extraction are the only options.
However, if additional research proves that pulp capping is successful in most patients, then many patients could have not only a less painful procedure but also a less expensive and less time consuming one as well. Those who have abscesses, though, still only have two options: a root canal or an extraction. The pulp cap tries to recover and restore the damaged nerve, but if the nerve is already dead, the cap will have no effect.
So the next time you’re at the dentist and you’re told that you need a root canal, ask if you qualify for pulp capping. As the technology continues to improve and more and more research is gathered, there’s a great chance that you will only need a pulp cap.
Source: Hilton T, Keys to Clinical Success with Pulp Capping: A Review of the Literature, RCDSO Peak Publication, May/June 2010, pg 1-16.