How is a Pulpotomy Different from a Root Canal?

You may have come across the term “pulpotomy” when searching online for the cause of your symptoms. Or perhaps your dentist mentioned the possibility of needing this procedure, so you’re looking for more information. So we’ll dive into the procedure here, and how it’s different from a root canal. 

What Is a Pulpotomy?

Most people think of teeth as solid, almost bony objects that are hard through and through, but this isn’t accurate. While the exterior of the tooth is hard, there’s quite a bit happening inside that hard shell. Inside each healthy tooth reside blood vessels, connective tissue, and nerves. All this softer material together is the pulp of the tooth.

Minor tooth decay, what we typically call cavities, can be easily treated before there’s any risk of damage to a tooth’s pulp. That’s what we’re doing when you get a standard filling. We’re getting rid of minor decay before it turns into something worse.

If left untreated, tooth decay will nearly always progress. Over time, a tooth can decay to the point where the pulp is exposed, no longer protected by the tooth itself. Bacteria then has access to the pulp, leading to infection.

A pulpotomy is the least invasive method for dealing with infected tooth pulp. In this procedure, only the pulp in the crown of the tooth is removed. The roots of the tooth are left intact. After removing a part of the crown of the tooth and the decayed or dead pulp inside, a dentist will install a medicated filling over the remaining roots of the tooth. In most cases, the dentist will then install a crown to further protect the tooth.

Most pulpotomies are performed on children when baby teeth show advanced decay. The procedure is sometimes recommended for adults, with research showing adult pulpotomies are successful in some scenarios. Still, the procedure can be harder to do and is sometimes less effective on adult (permanent) teeth.

What Is a Root Canal?

A root canal is another procedure that addresses damaged or dead tooth pulp. It’s considerably more invasive than a pulpotomy and involves removing all tooth pulp from the affected tooth, including the roots. While considerably more invasive, root canals tend to last quite well and are regarded as a long-term solution.

For quite a few years, the root canal has been the go-to solution for just about any scenario where tooth pulp is infected. This is changing, though. Thanks to improvements in dental technology, it’s easier today to identify how much of a tooth’s pulp is infected. If the infection is limited, a pulpotomy may do the job with far less invasiveness. Doing so saves more of the natural tooth and roots as well.


What about Pulpectomies? Pulpotomy vs. Pulpectomy Explained

One question you may have is about pulpotomy vs. pulpectomy. These terms sound similar, and they do refer to similar procedures. However, there’s not usually much debate between the two.

We covered pulpotomies above, but as a reminder, this procedure involves removing just the pulp in the crown (top) of the tooth, then placing a medicated filling above the remaining roots.

The term pulpectomy refers to removing all the pulp (including the roots) from a tooth. It’s never a standalone procedure. Something else — some kind of follow-up step procedure — has to be done after removing the pulp. In most cases, that follow-up procedure is a root canal.

So a pulpotomy is a standalone procedure that saves some pulp and the roots of a tooth. A pulpectomy, on the other hand, removes all the pulp from the affected tooth but is not a standalone procedure.


Which Procedure Is Best for Me?

If you’re dealing with tooth pain, what’s the best solution? Perhaps all you need is a filling. If you already know that you’re dealing with infected pulp, is a pulpotomy the right choice, or do you need a root canal?

The only way to know for certain is to discuss your options with a dentist or endodontic specialist. To accurately identify the right solution, a practitioner will need to carefully evaluate the state of your tooth, among other factors. Usually, within one visit, you’ll gain a clear understanding of the options available for your unique situation.

Largo Endodontics is here for all your dental and endodontic needs. Reach out today to schedule an appointment. We’ll help you determine the next steps in your oral health journey.