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It’s Alive! Your Tooth, That Is!

People often wonder, “How does a tooth get an infection?”

It's Alive

It’s a common misconception that teeth are not alive. That belief leads to confusion about how teeth become infected. Because you can’t “feel” the part that you can see (the crown), many people think that their teeth are not alive. Yet, the opposite is true. Most of the material that makes up your teeth is, in fact, made of living cells. Since the material is alive, it makes a great host site for bacterial infections!

Similar to hair and fingernails, there is a part of your teeth that is not alive – it is the outermost part, called “enamel”. This is the hard, white part that you can see. It is made of calcium phosphate, a very hard mineral that is perfect for breaking down food when you eat. Underneath that enamel, however, is where all of the live action happens!

Starting on the outside and working our way in, we find dentin (alive), and then the pulp cavity and root canal, through which nerves and blood vessels flow.

Generally speaking, if the enamel is intact, bacteria cannot get through to the pulp to cause problems. However, if there is a crack in the outer part of the tooth due to injury or decay, this creates a pathway for bacteria to enter into the innermost part of the tooth (the pulp cavity and canal) causing infection of the living tissue.

Entry of bacteria into the pulp or nerve space is when endodontic treatment becomes essential! The only way to remove the infected material is manually, by accessing the canal itself, irrigating and then filling, or closing off access, to the inside of the tooth again. If this is not done, pain and infection will increase. The only other alternative would be to remove a natural tooth and replace it with a dental implant, bridge or removable partial denture. Keeping a natural tooth healthy is always best!

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People often wonder, “How does a tooth get an infection?”

It's Alive

It’s a common misconception that teeth are not alive. That belief leads to confusion about how teeth become infected. Because you can’t “feel” the part that you can see (the crown), many people think that their teeth are not alive. Yet, the opposite is true. Most of the material that makes up your teeth is, in fact, made of living cells. Since the material is alive, it makes a great host site for bacterial infections!

Similar to hair and fingernails, there is a part of your teeth that is not alive – it is the outermost part, called “enamel”. This is the hard, white part that you can see. It is made of calcium phosphate, a very hard mineral that is perfect for breaking down food when you eat. Underneath that enamel, however, is where all of the live action happens!

Starting on the outside and working our way in, we find dentin (alive), and then the pulp cavity and root canal, through which nerves and blood vessels flow.

Generally speaking, if the enamel is intact, bacteria cannot get through to the pulp to cause problems. However, if there is a crack in the outer part of the tooth due to injury or decay, this creates a pathway for bacteria to enter into the innermost part of the tooth (the pulp cavity and canal) causing infection of the living tissue.

Entry of bacteria into the pulp or nerve space is when endodontic treatment becomes essential! The only way to remove the infected material is manually, by accessing the canal itself, irrigating and then filling, or closing off access, to the inside of the tooth again. If this is not done, pain and infection will increase. The only other alternative would be to remove a natural tooth and replace it with a dental implant, bridge or removable partial denture. Keeping a natural tooth healthy is always best!