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We compared pain measured by the 17-item Short Pain Inventory© in two samples of dental patients with two medical samples and with two non-patient samples. We contrasted all six samples to pilot the use of the inventory as an aid to clinicians in the evaluation of pain experienced by dental and medical patients. Six parallel groups of patients (n =266) were contrasted on pain severity, total mood disturbance and subscales of pain induced mood disturbance. The ability to discriminate between different patient groups and between pain–non-pain, indexed validity. Test-retest reliability and internal reliability were also computed.Patients attending the King's emergency dental clinic showed the highest pain disturbance compared with all other groups. The order of magnitude of pain disturbance thereafter was in the general order of Chronic Pain Clinic > Beckton General Dental Practice > Osteoarthritic knee outpatients > stressed teachers and normal healthy non-patients. The SPI was successful at revealing significant differences in pain severity and pain-related mood disturbance, relating to the global well being of the patient. Significant group differences were also seen in pain-induced anger, sadness, sedation, anxiety and social interaction. We conclude that the SPI gives valuable, reliable and valid pain information. It may helpful in the management of dental and medical patients and in future clinical trials.