Cold stimuli of varying intensities were randomly applied to upper middle incisors of 12 healthy young subjects for a mean duration of 2 min by individually adapted thermodes the temperatures of which ranged from + 30°C to − 30°C. The subjects were asked to rate the magnitude of their pain sensations during application of the stimuli by means of a linear potentiometer according to a category scale. After each stimulus, they were asked to describe the quality of their pain sensations.
Cold stimulation of the teeth evoked pain sensations were reproducible that in subsequent trials and could be graded according to stimulation intensity. Below certain individually different threshold thermode temperatures the onset of a stimulus was followed, after a short latency (1.6 ± 1 sec), by a sharp and shooting pain sensation which immediately decreased after reaching its maximum value while the stimulus was still present. The mean maxima of the pain intensities were correlated to the thermode temperature. In general, this first pain component was followed by a second one (latency: 29.9 ± 6.3 sec) with a lower threshold temperature, less of an increase in rate and lower magnitude. This was described as a dull, burning pain which was difficult to localize.
The human pain ratings are compared to recordings of intradental nerve fibres in the cat and, under the assumption that the response behaviour of human pulpal nerve fibres is comparable to that of the cat, we hypothesize that the first pain component is evoked by intradental Aδ fibres exhibiting their typical phasic response behaviour and firing during the initial steep temperature decrease. After some seconds, intradental temperature reached values sufficient to evoke C-fibre activity associated with the second pain component.