Pulpitis is inflammation of dental pulp tissue. The pulp contains the blood vessels the nerves and connective tissue inside a tooth and provides the tooth’s blood and nutrients. Pulpitis is mainly caused by bacteria infection which itself is a secondary development of caries (tooth decay). It manifests itself in the form of a toothache.
Pulpitis may be caused by dental caries that penetrate through the enamel and dentin to reach the pulp, or it may be a result of trauma, such as physical abuse of the tooth or thermal insults, including overheating from insufficiently cooled dental drills and use of dental curing lights. More often it is from physical trauma rather than dental treatments.
Inflammation is commonly associated with a bacterial infection but can also be due to other insults such as repetitive trauma or in rare cases periodontitis. In the case of penetrating decay, the pulp chamber is no longer sealed off from the environment of the oral cavity.
When the pulp becomes inflamed, pressure begins to build up in the pulp cavity, exerting pressure on the nerve of the tooth and the surrounding tissues. Pressure from inflammation can cause mild to extreme pain, depending upon the severity of the inflammation and the body's response. Unlike other parts of the body where pressure can dissipate through the surrounding soft tissues, the pulp cavity is very different. It is surrounded by dentin, a hard tissue that does not allow for pressure dissipation, so increased blood flow, a hallmark of inflammation, will cause pain.
Pulpitis can often create so much pressure on the tooth nerve that the individual will have trouble locating the source of the pain, confusing it with neighboring teeth, called referred pain. The pulp cavity inherently provides the body with an immune system response challenge, which makes it very difficult for a bacterial infection to be eliminated.
If the teeth are denervated, this can lead to irreversible pulpitis, depending on the area, rate of infection, and length of injury. This is why people who have lost their dental innervation have a reduced healing ability and increased rate of tooth injury. Thus, as people age, their gradual loss of innervation leads to pulpitis.