How Your Dentist Diagnoses Pulp Disease
The description you give of your symptoms forms the basis of your dentist’s diagnosis. The severity, nature, duration, and location of the pain all offer clues about the extent of pulp damage.
Your dentist will look for visual clues, such as cracked or discolored teeth and changes in the gum tissue. Your dentist may also try exposing the tooth to stimuli such as heat, cold, or a light electrical current. A response indicates the nerve is still alive.
Your dentist may inject a local anesthetic at the base of the tooth in question. If the pain goes away, that shows the tooth was the right one. If the pain persists, the dentist will repeat the injection at the base of the next tooth and will continue until the diseased tooth is identified.
Although X-rays can shed light on the interior structure of the tooth, they cannot reveal whether the pulp is healthy. Pulpitis must be very advanced before bone degeneration shows up on the film.
Source: Dental Health for Adults: A Guide to Protecting Your Teeth and Gums. Copyright © by Harvard University. All rights reserved.