Outcome expectations of direct pulp capping in carious teeth are obscured by a clinically unknown infiltration and breakdown of the dental pulp tissue. Histologic studies showed that this soft tissue breakdown is related to the innate immune system. We hypothesized 1) that a neutrophil biomarker could predict the outcome of direct pulp capping and 2) that using sodium hypochlorite (NaOCl) as a lavage solution to remove necrotized infected pulp tissue could improve it. In this randomized trial in mature posterior teeth causing no or mild discomfort with carious pulpal exposures, pulpal fluid was collected to assess neutrophil gelatinase (matrix metalloproteinase 9 [MMP-9]) per total protein (TP) levels as a predictive local biomarker. Subsequently, the dentin-pulp wound was randomly washed with a 2.5% NaOCl or a physiologic saline solution (1:1 allocation), capped with mineral trioxide aggregate, and the tooth was immediately restored with a resin-based composite restoration. Ninety-six patients were included, and 84 individuals could be followed up to treatment failure or clinically confirmed pulp survival after a minimum of 1 y. The entire data were fitted to a Cox proportional hazards model to assess the influence of the observational variables MMP-9/TP and discomfort with the randomized lavage treatment on pulp survival. The Kaplan-Meier pulp survival rates after 1 y were 55% for saline and 89% for NaOCl lavage. The inflammatory state of the pulp tissue as reflected by MMP-9/TP levels and NaOCl lavage had a highly significant (P < 0.001 and P = 0.004, respectively) impact on pulp survival, while mild preoperative discomfort did not. In conclusion, MMP-9/TP showed great promise as a predictive local biomarker, and NaOCl lavage considerably improved the survival time of cariously exposed and directly capped pulps.
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