BACKGROUND: This study aimed to identify key symptoms that could be associated with the diagnosis of acute forms of symptomatic apical periodontitis (SAP) and symptomatic irreversible pulpitis (SIP), and to identify a diagnostic algorithm based on these symptoms.
METHODS: In this prospective, observational study 173 emergency patients diagnosed with acute pain of endodontic origin and no swelling or fistula were included. Patients were asked 11 specific questions from a checklist with a possible discerning value between acute SAP and acute SIP. Pain levels were recorded using the numeric rating scale (NRS-11). Subsequently, the painful tooth was diagnosed. Logistic regression was used to evaluate the checklist regarding its differentiation between SAP (N = 103) and SIP (N = 70). Moreover, a decision tree was constructed based on recursive partitioning to identify a hierarchy in differentiating symptoms.
RESULTS: With identical median NRS-11 scores of 8, the teeth diagnosed with acute SAP and SIP were severely painful. The decision tree analysis resulted in a tree with splits according to pain on cold, perceived tooth extrusion, and pain duration. The overall sensitivity of the tree to detect SAP based on key symptoms was 95 %, its specificity was 31 %.
CONCLUSIONS: The best indicator for SAP was a reported absence of pain to cold stimuli. In teeth that did have a history of pain triggered by cold stimuli, the decision tree correctly identified SAP in 72 % of the teeth that felt too high and had hurt for less than one week.