Prevention, symptoms and treatment of a dead tooth

dead tooth

We’ve all heard the phrase dead tooth, but what exactly is it?

Can teeth die?

What causes them to die?

Is there a way to prevent it?

Keep reading to find out!

What is a dead tooth?

Filled with blood vessels and nerves, teeth are indeed living, and just like any other organ in your body, if the blood flow is cut off, they will die.

A tooth is constructed of three layers; enamel, dentin, and pulp.

The pulp is the filling on the inside which contains all the nerves and blood vessels. This living tissue is what keeps your teeth “alive” so to speak.

If there is damage to the small nerve fibres or blood vessels, then blood flow to the tooth can stop, and after that it won’t be long before the tooth “dies”.

A dead nerve in a tooth is sometimes referred to as a necrotic pulp or a pulpless tooth.

What causes a tooth to die?

There are two main reasons why a tooth might die; decay and trauma.

Tooth decay is something we are all familiar with.

We’re told from a young age to brush our teeth for this exact reason.

Decay may start on the outside of the tooth on the enamel, but if left untreated, it soon works its way into the pulp.

Once given the chance to reach the centre of the tooth, bacteria will start to grow. This will result in our white blood cells trying to fight off the infection, causing inflammation and severe toothache.

Unfortunately, your body can only fight off the infection for so long, and without treatment, the pressure inside the tooth will increase, cutting off the blood supply, starving the nerve, and killing the pulp.

With trauma, blood supply to the tooth also gets cut off, but for different reasons, usually from an impact, such as a sports injury, fall, or assault.

Both decay and trauma are different paths to the same destination; a dead tooth.

toothache from dead tooth

Symptoms of a dead tooth

A dead tooth isn’t as easy to spot as you might think.

While some have obvious symptoms, other may look and feel normal – for a while. This is why it is important to have regular appointments with your dentist.

If there are symptoms, they’ll usually come in two forms; pain and a change in colour.

The pain can come from the original infection, putting pressure on the nerve inside to the tooth. If this is the case, then it might still be possible to save the tooth if caught early enough.

If left too long, the pain might not even be from the tooth. Instead, an abscess may have formed, in which case it will be accompanied by swelling, a bad taste in your mouth, and a funny odour.

If it’s too late and you do have a dead tooth, then then it will often change colour. This is similar to bruising, as the red blood cells in the tooth are dying.

A dead tooth will often get darker, turning yellow, grey or black.

Treatment of a dead tooth

Some people might think, “well, if the tooth is already dead, why not leave it in there?” the answer is simple; it’s now a breeding ground for bacteria, and if left, things will only get worse.

There are two options when it comes to treatment of a dead tooth; a root canal, or remove the tooth altogether.

With a root canal, the tooth is hollowed out, cleaned of all infection, filled and sealed shut. This is the preferred option, as dentists don’t like pulling teeth unless absolutely necessary.

If a root canal is too little too late, then an extraction may be the only alternative. This is why early detection of an infection in a tooth is important. The sooner it’s treated, the more likely you are to keep your tooth.

male dentist with patient

How we can help with a dead tooth

If you have a toothache, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have dead tooth. However, it is important to get it checked out as soon as possible.

Ignoring a toothache is the first step to an infection, and then it’s all downhill from there.

We try our best to avoid tooth extraction, but if there are no other options available, then as one of the foremost leaders in advanced dental surgery, we can remove your tooth with the minimum of fuss, inconvenience, and pain.

Hopefully it won’t come to that, and the dead tooth can be treated with a root canal.

With our cutting-edge laser root canal treatment you’ll have less inflammation, swelling and discomfort, along with a reduced possibility of side effects from the procedure.

At our clinic, we strive to provide you with dental care that is innovative, comprehensive and comfortable in a safe and caring environment.

We do everything we can to make your dentist experience comfortable and relaxed, and to have a full understanding of what’s going on at every stage of treatment.

Contact our team today if you have any questions about the causes, symptoms, or treatments for a dead tooth.

Our friendly and experienced staff will be happy to answer any questions you may have.