How To Identify And Treat A Dead Tooth

A dead tooth is also known as a non-vital tooth — and this means that the tooth is no longer alive and is lacking in blood supply, according to Healthline. This means that the tooth can no longer repair itself or maintain its structure, which can lead to decay, infection, and, ultimately, tooth loss. Dead teeth can occur for various reasons, and it is important to identify and treat them early to prevent further damage and maintain good oral health. One of the most common causes of a dead tooth is trauma. This can occur from a fall, a blow to the face, or any other impact that damages the tooth or its root. 

Your teeth can also die due to untreated dental decay or infection. If a cavity is left untreated, it can spread to the pulp inside the tooth, which can cause infection and death. Similarly, gum disease, or periodontitis, can cause the supporting bone around your teeth to break down, leading to tooth loss, explains the Mayo Clinic. Certain medical treatments, such as radiation therapy or chemotherapy, can also cause teeth to die. These treatments can disturb the bacterial balance in the mouth, leading to infections and, in some cases, tooth decay, as explained by the National Cancer Institute.

What does a dead tooth look like?

If you have a dead tooth, there are some visual signs to look out for. However, the appearance of a dead tooth may vary depending on the severity of the condition and how long the tooth has been dead. According to Healthline, one of the most common signs of a dead tooth is discoloration. Healthy teeth should generally be white, although they may have some slight color variations, which can be caused by dietary habits (coffee and tea drinking). A dead tooth, on the other hand, may appear yellow, gray, or brown. The color change may be subtle at first, but over time, the tooth may become noticeably darker than the surrounding teeth.

Pain is another vital sign. The nerve endings in a dead tooth can cause pain, especially if an infection is present, says Medical News Today. When a tooth dies, the bacteria normally present in the mouth can begin to increase within the tooth and its surrounding tissues, leading to an infection. A dead tooth may also appear swollen, and a pimple may appear around the gum line. In some cases, though, it may be hard to identify a dead tooth at home — a dental checkup may be needed in such cases.

How is a dead tooth treated?

The primary goal of treatment is to remove any infected or damaged tissue and restore the tooth's function and appearance. A root canal is one of the most common treatments for a dead tooth. This involves removing the damaged or infected pulp inside the tooth and replacing it with a filling material. The dentist will first numb the area with a local anesthetic and then use a drill to create a small hole in the top of the tooth. They will then use special tools to remove the damaged or infected pulp from inside the tooth, clean the area thoroughly, and fill the space with a filling material, says the Cleveland Clinic. A crown may be placed over the tooth to protect it from further damage.

In some cases, a dead tooth may be too damaged or infected to save, and it may need to be extracted, Healthline explains. Your doctor may suggest this as a last resort if preserving your natural teeth is not possible. After the tooth is extracted, it can be replaced with a dental implant or bridge. Several other treatments may be used, including pain medications to manage discomfort.

It is important to seek dental treatment as soon as possible if you suspect you have a dead tooth. If left untreated, a dead tooth can lead to further damage and infection, which can be painful and costly to treat. Regular dental checkups and cleanings can also help detect a dead tooth early before it causes significant damage.