Pulp capping is a technique used in dental restorations to prevent the dental pulp from necrosis, after being exposed, or nearly exposed during a cavity preparation. When dental caries is removed from a tooth, all or most of the infected and softened enamel and dentin are removed. This can lead to the pulp of the tooth either being exposed or nearly exposed which causes pulpitis (inflammation). Pulpitis, in turn, can become irreversible, leading to pain and pulp necrosis, and necessitating either root canal treatment or extraction. The ultimate goal of pulp capping or stepwise caries removal is to protect a healthy dental pulp and avoid the need for root canal therapy.
To prevent the pulp from deteriorating when a dental restoration gets near the pulp, the dentist will place a small amount of a sedative dressing, such as calcium hydroxide or MTA. These materials, protect the pulp from noxious agents (heat, cold, bacteria) and stimulate the cell-rich zone of the pulp to lay down a bridge of reparative dentin. Dentin formation usually starts within 30 days of the pulp capping (there can be a delay in onset of dentin formation if the odontoblasts of the pulp are injured during cavity removal) and is largely completed by 130 days.:491–494Two different types of pulp cap are distinguished. In direct pulp capping, the protective dressing is placed directly over an exposed pulp; and in indirect pulp capping, a thin layer of softened dentin, that if removed would expose the pulp, is left in place and the protective dressing is placed on top. A direct pulp cap is a one-stage procedure, whereas a stepwise caries removal is a two-stage procedure over about six months.