Tooth explosion due to severe pain: the unsolved mystery of dentists


Going to the dentist is a feat for many. Which is not surprising: old equipment, low-quality anesthetics and pain in the treatment of many diseases of the teeth and gums are still fresh in my memory. Of course, today dentistry, as a branch of medicine, has undergone significant changes: doctors guarantee treatment without pain and even “without memory”. Understanding many processes and studying the mechanism of development of pathologies can avoid complications. But still, unsolved mysteries remain that have been tormenting the minds of dentists for more than a century, such as the phenomenon of an exploding tooth, which was preceded by severe toothache. MedAboutMe will tell you more about an interesting fact.

Dental practice in Pennsylvania

Dental practice in Pennsylvania

The exploding tooth phenomenon was first described in the US scientific journal Dental Cosmos in 1859. The author of the article is the dentist Atkinson, who has many years of clinical experience, literary talent and powers of observation. Fortuitously or tragically, he had several patients with detonated teeth in his practice. And only 42 years after the first case, the dentist decided to share his observations with the scientific world.

In an article published in the magazine, Atkinson, a dentist, described the suffering of his patient, a priest. Mindful of the hefty literary talent, the description turned out to be more than colorful, and reading it, many can feel the toothache experienced by the priest.

On August 31, at 9 pm (the accuracy is simply amazing), the fang ached, the pain, tearing, bursting, grew and grew, literally to brutality and darkness in the eyes. Further, the author notes: the patient in agony rushed around the house and the plot, trying to find relief and seize the moment without a toothache that made him literally dig the ground with his head, and also dive into a bucket of well water.

The author of the article notes that a severe toothache bothered the patient the next day, and she did not loosen her grip. Only in the evening did relief come, and in the most unexpected way: walking around the house after a sleepless night and in complete exhaustion, the priest felt a sharp click in his mouth, which can be compared with a pistol shot. As a result, the tooth literally fell apart, and the pain disappeared, as the patient hastened to inform his wife and children.

In his explanatory note, dentist Atkinson noted that after pain relief, the patient slept for about a day, and in the morning was already in good health.

It is important that when examining the oral cavity, no damage to the mucous membrane was noted, that is, the detonation of the tooth had a low power.

Between 1847 and 1855, 2 more similar cases were recorded, also in Pennsylvania with a similar scenario: severe toothache — pop — relief.

Blame the pain?

An analysis of scientific journals shows that such cases were not only in the practice of Dr. Atkinson. D. Phelps Hibler, in the pages of his book in 1874, described a similar case. After excruciating, debilitating pain, the patient’s tooth (remarkably, it was also a fang!) ruptured with such a crack that it caused her to lose her balance.

Despite the similarity of symptoms, there are differences, in particular, acoustics. Dr. Hibler notes that, in addition to loss of balance, the patient complained of hearing loss, one might say, short-term: hearing was restored, but not immediately.

So what is the reason for this phenomenon? A simple fantasy of patients, supplemented by a colorful description of dentists, or is it some kind of physical and chemical processes unknown and inexplicable? It is difficult to answer this question, moreover, it is not even mentioned, but there are more or less plausible theories.

Even Dr. Atkinson put forward the theory that the cause of the explosion of the tooth was free heat, which collected in the cavity and exerted pressure on the walls of the tooth from the inside. After, when the exact cause of caries, its complications was established and the role of bacteria in this process was determined, the theory was completely debunked.

Dr. Hibler proposed a slightly different theory: the accumulation of gases in the cavity of the tooth due to caries. This theory also did not stand up to scrutiny. And in many respects the reason for such erroneous theories was the lack of understanding of caries as a pathological process and the mechanism of its development.

The role of bacteria

The role of bacteria

It is bacteria, some representatives of the genus Staphylococcus, that provoke caries and its complications. In the process of their vital activity, a number of acids are produced, as well as volatile gases, which can color the breath, as a result of which halitosis develops.

But even if we assume that a certain gas secreted by bacteria accumulates in the cavity of the tooth, this theory also does not stand up to scrutiny. The tooth and the bone tissue around it has phenomenal strength, therefore, to break the tooth, you will need tremendous pressure that bacteria alone cannot create.

The role of the filling material

It is electrochemistry that can shed light on the formation of this phenomenon. Recall that in the 1830s, the main filling material was amalgam — a metal filling. With proper filling, the filling was eternal. But dentists had to observe numerous nuances: shrinkage and expansion, the absence of air cavities in the filling, as well as the presence of other metals in the mouth, and much more.

The neighborhood of two different alloys can turn the oral cavity into a battery, with all its inherent processes, including microexplosions. This is the most reliable and plausible theory, but it also has many disadvantages.

Secret revealed?

Despite the existence of numerous theories, there is no exact answer to the question. There is a flaw in every existing explanation. Many authors and researchers talk about the excessive impressionability of Atkinson and Hibler, who significantly embellished the cases.

But the examples were repeated and were not limited to the practice of only two doctors. Similar cases were reported in the 1920s and in 1965.

On September 21, 1965, the British Dental Journal received a letter from a mother who spoke of the explosion of milk teeth scattered throughout the room. Parents kept the milk teeth of their two daughters on the fireplace in a beautiful frame, in an instant there was a noticeable crack and fragments of the teeth scattered around a rather large room. In this case, it is difficult to find a trace of bacteria and their role in such a phenomenon.

There are many undated similar cases occurring at different times in different patients, but it was not possible to trace any connection between them due to the lack of available information.

Mystery, and more

Until now, scientists cannot name the cause of explosive toothache in the literal sense of the word. The lack of responses can be attributed to an insufficient base of reliable data, fragments of teeth, gums and oral examination, as well as information about the patient himself, the state of the oral cavity and health in general. After all, literally everything will matter in understanding the process. The only source of facts are letters, testimonies, articles in magazines.


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