Science News, which has been the most valuable magazine subscription I have ever known, recently published an article about pain and teeth. The article describes how it is difficult to tell exactly which tooth is hurting. In fact it’s hard to tell, sometimes, whether the pain is from an upper tooth or a lower tooth. That says something fascinating about the human brain and how our nerves work. The article is here. It’s called “Why a rotten tooth is hard to find.” It would appear that the confusion might arise when the pain signal comes into that ganglion of nerves that brings upper and lower teeth nerves together. Perhaps like the old telephone crossover signals.
I’ve had more than my share of fillings, root canals and caps over the years, and I agree that the dentist has to tap or put ice on a tooth to be sure you’ve identified the real problem.
More interesting than teeth was something that happened to me a few years ago. I knew I was developing carpal tunnel syndrome and, being right handed, it appeared first in my right hand/arm. I did the usual braces, pain killers and ergonomic efforts, but the pain became part of my left hand/arm also. It finally hit the point where I couldn’t sleep well and was in constant pain. The surgeon that was highly recommended to me was a plastic surgeon who specialized in hands. When I had the nerve evaluation done by a nerve specialist, I was told that my left hand/arm actually transmitted nerve signals less well than my right. I could not imagine what would cause that difference. Being right handed, I favored my right hand. So maybe the left hand/arm just naturally had lower transmission speeds, but the doctors doing the evaluation and the surgery would have known that and nobody suggested that might be the case. So it occurred to me that the lower nerve transmission speed to/from the left hand might somehow be sympathetic with the nerve problems in the right hand/arm.
The surgeon asked which hand I wanted operated on first, since we assumed I would need to have both done. Being right handed I asked him to do the right hand first. When the right hand had its carpal tunnel surgery, the left hand/arm stopped hurting. Go figure. The difference was so dramatic that I assumed there was some sympathetic nerve pathway thing going on in the brain, but I’ve never read anything to that effect either before or since. This article about differentiating tooth pain is the closest I’ve found to addressing that experience.
If you know of any other articles or studies relating to pain location identification, I’d be interested to hear about them. The workings of the human mind and body are fascinating.