Some consider teeth to be akin to little white rocks. But in reality, a tooth is a living part of the body that is characteristically complex.
There are many layers of a tooth. The outer layer is the enamel, then comes the dentin. Both these layers are quite hard. But then comes the pulp, which is located in canals in the middle of the tooth.
The pulp is soft tissue inside the tooth, where nerves and blood vessels pass through. The pulp is important because it acts as a kind of alarm system for your teeth. When there is some kind of exposure or flaw in the tooth, the pulp eventually becomes sensitive to it, and signals to your brain that something needs to change. As any decay comes closer to the pulp, a person’s sensation to hot and cold will increase, in the teeth.
The pulp’s sensory role is important, but it has other roles as well. The pulp functions to form dentin, among other things. It supplies nutrients and moisture the surrounding areas of the tooth. The pulp also helps protect the tooth.
The pulp can also become inflamed, called pulpitis. This can be especially painful, and can require surgery.
The nerves of a tooth lie within what are called root canals, which run from the tip of a tooth’s root all the way into the pulp chamber, located near the top of the tooth. When the nerve becomes infected, or when the pulp becomes inflamed, a root canal might be necessary. When the nerve tissue or pulp is damaged, often bacteria begin to multiply in the pulp chamber, leading to infection.
During a root canal, the nerve and pulp is removed, and the inside of the tooth is cleaned and sealed. Since the nerve and pulp are not vital to the survival of a tooth after the tooth has emerged from the gums, displacing the baby teeth, a mouth can function properly even when certain teeth have no nerves.
Severe toothache pain when you chew or apply pressure to a tooth is a sign that you may need a root canal, that something may be wrong with the nerve or pulp of that tooth. Changed sensitivity, discoloration and swelling of the gums are other signs to watch for. When they come, talk to your family dentist. Cosmetic dentists can also become involved to resolve aesthetic issues that come come pulp problems.
Without nerves and pulp, the tooth will not be able to sense hot and cold, but every other function can be performed.