Validity of Preoperative Clinical Findings to Identify Dental Pulp Status: A National Dental Practice-Based Research Network Study

Maria Pigg, Donald R. Nixdorf, Ruby H.N. Nguyen, Alan S. Law

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32 Scopus citations


Introduction Endodontic diagnostic tests are often used clinically to assess pulp status as a basis for the diagnosis and determination of whether root canal treatment (RCT) is indicated. Response to cold and pain on percussion are 2 common tests, yet their validity in identifying nonvital pulp in regular dental practice has not been reported. Methods We assessed the validity of cold and percussion tests to identify nonvital pulp in teeth requiring RCT in a dental practice setting performed by 46 general dentists and 16 endodontists in the National Dental Practice-Based Research Network. The influence of patient-, tooth-, and dentist-related characteristics was investigated. Observed bleeding from the pulp chamber was the clinical reference. Sensitivity (SN), specificity (SP), overall test accuracy (TA), positive (PPV) and negative (NPV) predictive values, and likelihood and diagnostic odds ratios (LR+, LR-, dORs) were calculated for each single test and the combined cold and percussion tests. Results Seven hundred eight patient teeth were included. Cold test showed high validity to identify a nonvital pulp status (SN = 89%, SP = 80%, TA = 84%, PPV = 81%, NPV = 88%, LR+ = 4.35, LR- = 0.14, dOR = 31.4), whereas pain on percussion had lower validity (SN = 72%, SP = 41%, TA = 56%, PPV = 54%, NPV = 60%, LR+ = 1.22, LR- = 0.69, dOR = 1.78). Combining the 2 tests did not increase validity, whereas preoperative pain, medication intake, patient age and sex, and dentist training level affected test validity significantly. Conclusions In regular dental practice, the cold test exhibits higher validity to discriminate between vital and nonvital pulp than the tooth percussion test.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)935-942
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Endodontics
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 American Association of Endodontists.


  • Dental pulp necrosis
  • dental pulp test
  • diagnostic test validity
  • endodontics
  • root canal therapy
  • sensitivity and specificity


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