Cosmetic Dentistry Blog Cosmetic and General Dentistry Questions Answered

July 27, 2017

This is too much sensitivity – you need a root canal


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Dear Dr. Hall:
On June 26, my dentist prepared my cracked tooth number 30 (lower right first molar) for a crown. I had several problems with the temporary crown including very sore gum and pain with biting and cold sensitivity. However, since the pain was not lingering, my dentist placed my permanent crown on July 12. But it didn’t subside and in fact, it got worse. After one week, I visited him again and he took X-ray and did cold test and pressure test. He also knocked at my tooth which was not painful. My tooth was very sensitive to cold but it went away in less than 30 seconds. Also, I didn’t feel pain with pressure test although I felt pain when I bit on hard things. So my dentist said I had to wait and I had high chances to get better. He said sensitivity to pressure is normal even for 30 to 90 days. Now 10 days has passed and from my permanent crown placement, but I don’t see any improvement. Also, today I discovered my tooth is sensitive to hot food too although it doesn’t linger for a long time after the hot food is removed. I think once I realized this sensitivity with that temporary crown but didn’t care about it.
Are these reversible pulpitis symptoms? Does that heat sensitivity show my tooth nerve is dying? How long do you think I must wait before I see an endodontist?
Thanks a lot.
– Bita from Iowa

Bita,
Thanks for the clear description of your symptoms! You told me what kind of pain, what provokes it, and gave me a clear history, which makes it much easier to figure out what is going on with your tooth.
I would call the endodontist today. There are a couple of red flags here and I’d get an expert diagnosis before this tooth gets any worse. It doesn’t look good.
I don’t want to be too critical of your dentist, because I don’t know the whole story of your tooth—just what you’ve told me. But just taking what you’ve told me, some additional caution in your case seems like it would have been wise, and I’ll explain why. It also isn’t normal for a tooth with a new crown to be sensitive to pressure for more than a few days, if the occlusion is adjusted correctly.
First, you had a cracked tooth. A crack can easily involve the pulp of a tooth and by itself can cause a tooth to become infected and the pulp to die.
On top of this, you had significant cold sensitivity after the crown preparation. This could have been due to an incompletely sealed temporary crown, or it could have been due to the extra irritation to which the tooth was subjected from the crown preparation, or a combination of the two. It would have been wise to have coated the tooth with some type of desensitizing product at this point. Maybe that was done.
Also, given those two things, it would have been prudent to have temporarily cemented the crown. This is a lower first molar, so the crown would have to be made out of some strong material that could have been cemented with a soothing type of cement in hopes that it would settle down, or, if it didn’t, to allow easy removal of the crown for root canal treatment. Permanently cementing a crown is usually an additional irritation which can push a borderline tooth over the edge to needing root canal treatment.
So your dentist permanently cemented the crown and the pain got worse. Your sensitivity is headed in the wrong direction and appears that it will end up in irreversible pulpitis, requiring root canal treatment.
And now it is getting sensitive to heat. I wouldn’t go quite so far as to say that it’s absolutely certainly suffering from irreversible pulpitis at this point, but if not, it’s awfully close. The endodontist should be able to tell you for certain. There would be subtle changes in the ligament of the tooth around the end of the root that most general dentists wouldn’t see but the endodontist should.

– Dr. Hall

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About David A. Hall

Dr. David Hall was one of the first 40 accredited cosmetic dentists in the world. He practiced cosmetic dentistry in Iowa, and in 1990 earned his accreditation with the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. He is now president of Infinity Dental Web, a company in Mesa, Arizona that does complete Internet marketing for dentists.

February 5, 2016

Diagnosing a sensitive tooth after a new filling

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Dr. Hall,
I wanted to get your opinion on a pain I am having after the filling on my molar was replaced two weeks ago (a silver filling was replaced with composite filling)

Here are my symptoms:
*moderate pain when chewing
*very mild sensitivity to cold
continuous moderate pain starting up in the evenings after dinner…
*I started taking 400mg Ibuprofen around midnight if I couldn’t sleep from the discomfort, and that really helps.
*In the mornings I have no pain.
(My wife, who is a doctor, suggested I take ibuprofen continuously to reduce possible inflammation. Started that today.)
*In the evenings, continuous mild pain and discomfort around my left jaw and tonsil.
*very slight tingling and numbness in my lower left jaw and chin, kind of like when anesthesia is almost completely worn off

So my question:

Do you think I should have the new filling replaced to address these symptoms? Or should I wait?
– Sergio from California

Sergio,
As thorough as you have been in describing your symptoms, I still haven’t got enough information to diagnose your pain. I don’t know how big your filling is. I don’t have an x-ray. I don’t know how deep the dentist had to go in doing your filling. Nevertheless, I think I can be helpful. Let’s examine your symptoms, point by point.
• Moderate pain when chewing. A sharp pain when chewing when there are no other symptoms indicates this peculiar sensitivity that seems to come because of a bonding failure. If that happens then yes, you want to have the filling replaced with some changes in the bonding procedure. But that’s not the case with your filling. The pain is moderate and there are other symptoms. I would attribute your sensitivity to one of two possible causes. Either this is a larger filling that has changed your bite somewhat, or the ligament attaching your tooth to the jawbone has been traumatized slightly. I would expect this to get better over time.
• Very mild sensitivity to cold. This would also happen if you had a large filling, or even one that was deep, where the pulp of the tooth was irritated because the dentist had to go close to the pulp to get the decay out. This type of sensitivity is routine for silver amalgam fillings but also happens with composite fillings when they are deep. As long as it gets gradually better, it is no cause for concern.
• Continuous moderate pain in the evenings. This is a little puzzling and is of more concern. Spontaneous pain in a tooth can indicate an irreversible pulpitis, especially if it is more intense when you lie down. Again, this could have been a deep filling. But if there is spontaneous pain, it would tend to indicate that some bacteria have gotten into the pulp. This doesn’t mean that the dentist did anything wrong. The dentin of your tooth is porous, and in the process of removing deep decay, some bacteria are going to be pushed into the dentinal tubules of your tooth. If the pulp is close to the floor of the cavity, those bacteria will end up in the pulp. If it’s not too many bacteria, your tooth can recover. But if your tooth isn’t getting better by now, it’s not recovering.
• Pain in the jaw and tonsil. This wouldn’t have anything to do with the tooth. It might be related to stress on your jaw or mouth from the procedure.
• Tingling and a sense of numbness in your lower left jaw. You had an injection to numb the lower left jaw. Residual tingling would indicate that the dentist hit the bullseye with the injection – a direct hit on the nerve he or she was targeting to numb. He or she may have even nicked it slightly with the needle. The target nerve here goes to the teeth on that side of your lower jaw and also to the lip and chin. This is of no concern and will completely go away in time.
Anyway, I hope this is helpful. You have an interesting mix of symptoms, and I’m hoping it makes an interesting and helpful blog post for others. Bottom line–most of this is not of any concern. But the spontaneous pain in the evenings worries me. Pain intense enough that you have to take ibuprofen to sleep is a concern. If it has been two to four weeks and there is no improvement, I would have the tooth x-rayed by a dentist who has a high level of expertise in radiographic diagnosis–possibly an endodontist (root canal specialist)–who should look for a widened periodontal ligament space around the root tip of this tooth. If that is present, the tooth may need a root canal treatment, and it would be better to have that done before the pain gets unbearable.

– Dr. Hall

Do you have a comment? We’d love to hear from you. Enter your comment below.

Click here to ask Dr. Hall a question of your own.

About David A. Hall

Dr. David Hall was one of the first 40 accredited cosmetic dentists in the world. He practiced cosmetic dentistry in Iowa, and in 1990 earned his accreditation with the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. He is now president of Infinity Dental Web, a company in Mesa, Arizona that does complete Internet marketing for dentists.

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