Cold testing.

2TheApex:  Cold testing is 90% accurate in determining pulp vitality.

Diagnosis can be one of the most challenging aspects of endodontic treatment.  The most commonly used test to determine pulpal status is the cold test.  There are several different methods to perform a cold test including: refrigerant spray (Endo Ice), ice, cold water, and CO2 sticks.  Here are some general tips for cold testing:

  •  Always dry and isolate the teeth to be tested.
  • Don’t trust that the patient knows what tooth hurts, studies show only 37%-73% accuracy in patients correctly identifying teeth with pulpitis.
  •  Start with a normal adjacent or contralateral tooth as a control.  This gives the patient a reference for the test, allows you to judge their reaction with a normal pulp, and aids in correctly identifying the source of the patient’s discomfort.
  • When possible, testing on the facial surface of the tooth allows for the most accurate results.
  • When using refrigerant spray, use a large, loose, cotton pellet held in a cotton pliers to maximize temperature change.  Avoid using cotton tip applicators because the tightly bound fibers do not transfer temperature change adequately.
  • If using ice, always start with the most posterior tooth, as cold water will run back and may illicit a response from a tooth other than that being tested.
  • Teeth with crowns and large restorations will most often still respond accurately to a cold test.

Remember that pulp testing is not a direct measure of the histological condition of the pulp, but rather a test based on the patients response to an external stimulus.  Approximately 10% of cold tests will yield incorrect results, and should not be relied upon as the sole indicator of pulpal status.  The patient’s medical history, reported symptoms, previous dental history, clinical findings, and radiographic examination must all be utilized to arrive at an accurate diagnosis. Cold testing, while an indispensable tool, is just one part of our diagnostic tool kit.


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