What is a dead tooth? Signs, causes, treatment, and prevention
What is a dead tooth? Signs, causes, treatment, and prevention
  • A dead tooth, also called a non-vital tooth, is a tooth in which the nerves and pulp are dead or necrotized. A tooth death can cause sensitivity, discoloration, and a bad smell due to bacterial infection.
  • Common causes of tooth death include physical trauma, bacterial infection from a dental cavity, or advanced tooth decay.
  • Treatment options include root canal therapy or tooth extraction. Root canal treatment is recommended to preserve the tooth and prevent further infection.
  • Get affordable dental care today. Use Authority Dental to find a top-rated dentists near you.

Are you concerned that your tooth may be dead? Here’s everything you need to know.

What are the symptoms of a dead tooth?

Increased tooth sensitivity, especially to cold and hot drinks and foods, as well as intense pain can be signs of a dying tooth. At the beginning you may not feel any discomfort.

Usually, a proliferating bacterial infection, from a dental cavity, can increase pressure on the periodontal membrane. This can trigger painful sensations. A dead tooth itself cannot cause pain because its nerve is no longer vital.

Tooth discoloration, especially blue or black, is another common symptom of dead pulp and nerves. Dead tooth smell is associated with the development of bacteria and may indicate nerve death. 

These symptoms occur at any time and it is easy to confuse them with less serious oral diseases. 

It is necessary to have regular dental checkups. If you suffer physical trauma to your mouth or jaw it is important to have an emergency visit to your dentist.  One of the most effective ways to detect the condition of your tooth is an X-ray. Your dentist will likely take an x-ray to assist in proper diagnosis. 

What does a dead tooth look like?

It is typical for a dying tooth to change its color. The colors can range from yellow to black. Although the process of dying is often completed within a few days, some people do not notice the discoloration until years after the tooth injury.

What causes tooth death?

Physical trauma or infiltration of bacteria into a pulp chamber from a dental cavity are often triggers for a dying tooth. The process of death is distinct. Sometimes it occurs quickly, and other times it can take years. 

Contact sports can increase the chance of dental trauma. Accidents can also be a cause for severe damage. 

Advanced tooth decay is another factor that leads to death of a tooth. In the early stages, a significantly  decayed tooth becomes susceptible to infections that gradually penetrate deeper into the nerve tissue. Over time, the ever-expanding bacteria changes the pressure, cutting off blood flow and killing the tooth.

How to treat a dead tooth?

Often times treatment for a dead tooth can include a root canal or an extraction. 

An appointment with your dentist will allow you to find the right course of treatment for your tooth and its current condition. Addressing problems sooner rather than later can help prevent further issues.

Untreated infections can lead to infections of surrounding and adjacent teeth. If left untreated infections can sometimes lead to further infection of the body if it enters the bloodstream, causing a serious medical emergent condition. 

Root canal therapy

A root canal procedure may be an appropriate treatment for a non-vital tooth. If a root canal procedure is possible it allows patients to preserve teeth even with dead nerves. The dead tooth can remain in the mouth for quite a while after a thorough root canal treatment.

To perform the procedure, your dentist cleanses the dead tissue of the necrotic pulp to remove the infection, bacteria, and pulpal tissue remnants.  The dentist then seals the empty cavity with a permanent filling, common gutta percha, that makes the tissue more resistant to new infections.

Tooth extraction

If your dentist deems root canal treatment is not an acceptable form of treatment, you will have to undergo an extraction.

Usually, this procedure involves  grabbing a tooth and removing it from  the bone and soft tissue. Depending on the tooth’s structure or amount of decay your dentist may need to section or cut your tooth into several pieces for adequate removal. 

Extraction may involve some post operative pain. The pain will usually subside in a few days to 2 weeks.  Use an ice pack at home to relieve pain and swelling. Prepare some gauze as the bleeding may continue for some time after the extraction. During the first days after the procedure, pay special attention to good oral hygiene and choose a soft diet.

How to prevent a dead tooth?

As a rule, preventive measures are effective for maintaining oral health. They include proper dental hygiene with morning and evening brushing with fluoride toothpaste and daily flossing.

Another essential component of dental care is a healthy diet free of acidic and sugary foods and beverages. It helps to keep the enamel, the protective outer layer of the tooth, intact and prevents deep cavities.

Unfortunately, good oral health cannot save you from dental injury, which can lead to nerve death. If you participate in contact sports, you should wear a mouthguard for protection. Other events, such as car accidents, can also cause serious oral injuries.