The role of oxygen in the regulation of the pulpal microcirculation is unknown. This investigation is aimed to measure tissue oxygen tension and blood-flow changes in the pulp of rat lower incisors during graded systemic hyperoxia, and to determine the response of the pulpal vasculature to various oxygen tensions. Twenty-four Sprague-Dawley rats were anaesthetized and artificially ventilated with the appropriate gas mixture. Recessed oxygen-sensitive microelectrodes were used to measure pulpal tissue oxygen tension via a small access cavity filled with saline on the labial surface of the incisor. A laser Doppler flowmeter was used to record pulpal blood-flow. Inspired oxygen was increased stepwise from 20 to 100% in 20% steps. Systemic blood-gas concentrations were measured at each step. Systemic arterial oxygen tension at 100% oxygen ventilation reached 481.2 +/- 30.7% of the baseline at 20% oxygen breathing (n = 21). Pulpal tissue oxygen tension did not change significantly whereas pulpal blood-flow fell dose-dependently to 74.6 +/- 5.0% at 100% oxygen ventilation (n = 21). Systemic hyperoxia, therefore, induces a significant reduction in pulpal blood-flow whereas pulpal tissue oxygen tension remains relatively stable, indicating an oxygen-dependent local regulatory mechanism. (C) 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.