A tooth is considered dead when there is no longer any blood flow reaching the tooth. A tooth is made up of layers—enamel, dentin, and pulp. There are blood vessels and nerves in the pulp when these nerves die, it leads to a dead tooth. This is usually due to tooth decay or injury. A dead tooth is often referred to as a non-vital tooth, a pulpless tooth, or a tooth with necrotic pulp.
Once a tooth is considered a dead tooth, the process is not reversible, and the tooth will need to be removed. With time it will eventually fall out by itself, but this can be dangerous to wait for as infection can spread to other teeth or even the jaw.
Symptoms of a Dead Tooth
There a few tells that a tooth may be dead or dying. In most cases, a dead tooth will be painful—but not always. It can range some no pain to intense pain. In most cases, if a tooth is dying the pain will increase until the nerves die. This pain occurs when the very sensitive nerve endings around the outside of the tooth—the periodontal membrane are infected.
If the infection from a dead tooth spreads, it can turn into an abscess or produce a bad taste, bad smell, swelling, or pimples on the gums. A dead tooth will usually change in color as well. It often becomes darker and will turn yellow, gray, or black. This is caused by the death of the red blood cells—it’s a similar effect to bruising the body. If the dead tooth is left untreated, discoloration will only get worse.
What Causes a Dead Tooth?
A dead tooth is caused by either physical trauma or tooth decay. Tooth decay starts on the outermost layer of the tooth, but eventually works it way in and becomes a cavity. As it penetrates deeper into layers of the tooth, it will eventually reach the pulp and infect it. When it happens, nerves die, blood flow is cut off, and a tooth is considered dead.
Tooth decay is very preventable, but physical trauma isn’t always. This trauma may include a sports injury, fall, or accident. When there is a sudden impact, blood vessels can burst—similar to a bruise, but if blood supply is then cut off to the tooth, it will die.
How Do You Treat a Dead Tooth?
A dead tooth should be extracted as soon as possible. If it is left for too long, the infection will start to spread and infect surrounding areas. This could lead to other tooth decay or problems in the jaw. In some cases, a root canal may be necessary.
The best way to deal with a dead tooth is to prevent it. Practice good oral hygiene and take care of cavities as soon as they arise to prevent further damage to your teeth.