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It’s been ten years since I got my two fillings. One fell out but doesn’t hurt. The other one is still in but is causing severe pain. It doesn’t bother any to bite on it, but it hurts most of the time. The only thing that relieves the pain is water and only for a few seconds. Any advice?
– Brandon from Oregon
I wish I had better news for you, Brandon, but your tooth, the one with the filling, is showing classic signs of a dying pulp and you’re going to need a root canal treatment on it. I’d get the other filling replaced before it’s too late.
Here’s what’s going on. There has been some decay get into the tooth, probably getting under the filling. That decay has grown until it has infected the pulp. As the infected pulp tissue dies, it can go into a state where it is called a gangrenous pulp. In that state, it gives off gasses that increase the pressure inside the tooth and cause a toothache. When you cool the tooth with water, it causes the gas to shrink somewhat and eases the pain.
This is a classic situation. When a patient reports that cold water or ice water is the only thing that relieves their toothache, you can be 100% guaranteed that they’re suffering from a gangrenous pulp in a tooth that has almost died. Relief can be obtained by simply creating an opening into the tooth to relieve the pressure, but then it needs to be followed up with a root canal treatment to fully remove all of the infected tissue inside the tooth and seal it against further problems.
It’s a similar situation when a tooth is sensitive to heat—it’s a nearly dead tooth.
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