Teeth are one of the vital organs of the body, and they need oxygen and nutrients to stay alive. However, traumatic events can damage the internal tissue of the tooth, which can disrupt this process and result in the death of the tooth, hence the name dead tooth.
It’s important to know the warning signs of a dead tooth. Leaving it untreated can worsen your oral health. It may be possible to preserve your natural tooth structure if you seek intervention at the right time.
What Is A Dead Tooth?
When the soft tissue inside the tooth – the pulp – is damaged and the blood supply to it is cut off, it’s called a dead tooth. The dental pulp is the innermost layer of the tooth that consists of connective tissue, nerves, and blood vessels. It extends from the crown of the tooth (visible part of the tooth above the gum tissues) all the way down to the roots (that anchor the tooth to the jawbone).
A healthy dental pulp provides oxygen and nutrients to the tooth, ensuring its vitality. The enamel and dentin provide extra protection to the dental pulp against microbes and trauma. However, when teeth get damaged due to different reasons, the dental pulp is exposed and vulnerable.
Possibly the blood vessels that keep the tooth alive burst, or the blood supply is cut off. This deprives the other tissues inside the pulp, including the nerves, which results in their death. It also results in the death of the pulp itself, which then makes up for a dead tooth.
How To Tell If A Tooth Is Dead?
Having a dead tooth may be accompanied by the following signs and symptoms:
- Discolouration – Unlike the white shade of a healthy, ‘alive’ tooth, a dead or dying tooth can have a yellow, brown, grey, or black colour.
- Pain – You may experience pain as the tooth is dying (some people also don’t). It can occur intermittently, and its severity will depend on how much the tooth has been damaged. It can be felt when you’re eating or consuming anything too hot or cold. The pain may go away once the pulp has died, but it may hurt when the tooth is tapped.
- Bad Smell – You may have bad breath because of the bacterial infection. It can also leave an unpleasant taste in the mouth.
- Swelling – Bacterial infection can also result in the swelling of the gum tissue. You may also end up with an abscess that looks like a bump or pimple.
Here, you should know that if the tooth is still hurting, it doesn’t mean that it’s still alive. There is a possibility that the infection will spread to the surrounding gum tissue, causing pain. Identifying the signs and symptoms of a dying or dead tooth can help you seek treatment as soon as possible.
While you’re experiencing these signs and symptoms, it’s best to avoid foods and drinks that are too hot or cold. Also, biting down on hard foods can cause a lot of pain, so try eating from the other side of the mouth.
What Causes A Dead Tooth?
You can end up with a dead tooth due to the following reasons:
Some of the bacteria present inside our mouths feed on sugar and carbohydrates. They metabolise it to produce acids which can demineralise the hard covering of the enamel. Once the enamel is damaged, you’ll end up with holes in the surface of your tooth.
These holes can give passage to the harmful bacteria in the mouth to enter the dental pulp, where it can cause infection. A healthy tooth will try to fight off the infection, but eventually, the increase in pressure can result in the cutting off of the blood supply. This will starve the nerve, killing along with the pulp. Poor oral hygiene and consumption of very sugary foods usually result in cavities, but they can also lead to the death of your toot.
Another factor that can result in a dead tooth is dental trauma. Severe mouth injuries can also burst the blood vessels supplying oxygen and nutrients to the tooth. And once the blood supply is cut off, the tissue inside the tooth starts to die. So, if you’ve fallen down on your face or gotten hit while playing contact sports, you should make sure to visit a dentist.
How To Fix A Dead Tooth?
Depending on the severity of the problem, you may have a few days to months to seek treatment for your tooth. There are two approaches for this:
Vital Pulp Therapy
It is considered an alternative root canal that aims to preserve healthy pulp tissue after it has been damaged as a result of decay or injury. This treatment is usually recommended for young adults whose tooth roots have still not completely matured. It relies on the pulp’s ability to heal itself, provided there is no infection. Once the damaged pulp is removed, the dentist will repair the crown of the tooth with a filling or composite bonding.
Root Canal Treatment
Non-vital pulp therapy is another term for root canal treatment. In this, an endodontist will remove the infected pulp and nerves from the inner chamber of the tooth. Under local anaesthesia, the dentist drills the crown of the tooth to access the pulp. The infection is cleaned from all the canals of the tooth, and a disinfectant is poured in. After the tooth is cleaned, the dentist will fill the tooth with gutta-percha (effectively sealing it) and place a temporary crown on top.
If the tooth is significantly decayed or damaged, the dentist might recommend performing a tooth extraction. This will be done under anaesthesia so that you do not feel any pain. The socket of the tooth will also be cleaned afterwards. And since missing teeth can cause deterioration of the jawbone and the shifting of the adjacent teeth, you might be recommended restorative treatments like dental implants.
A bone graft is an additional surgery that your dentist might recommend after treating the dead tooth. It doesn’t treat the damaged dental pulp, but a bone graft may be needed if the tooth infection has spread to the underlying bone and resulted in its deterioration. This surgery aims to rebuild the bone after the infectious tissue has been removed. For this, your surgeon may have to take bone from the jaw, hips, legs, or ribs.
Can A Dead Tooth Repair Itself?
A dead tooth cannot repair itself. You need to get some kind of intervention to save your tooth. If you don’t seek treatment immediately, you can end up with an abscess. The infection can also spread to the surrounding tissue and even the whole body, which can result in a life-threatening condition known as sepsis.
How Is A Dead Tooth Diagnosed?
To diagnose whether a tooth is dying or dead, your dentist will check for different things. If the tooth is dead, the nerves won’t feel any sensation. So, your dentist will try to find out if your tooth feels hot or cold. The colour of the tooth can also be an indication, but it will also be checked for any pain. An X-ray might also be needed for the confirmation of the diagnosis. The final treatment plan will depend on whether the tooth is dead or dying.
How To Prevent Dead Tooth?
There are some things that you can do to prevent a dead tooth. These are as follows:
- Maintain Good Oral Health – It is essential that you take good care of your teeth by brushing twice a day using fluoride toothpaste. It can help keep the teeth strong and remineralise the enamel. Also, make sure to use mouthwash and floss between the teeth.
- Wear A Mouth Guard – If you’re a sportsperson, you should consider wearing a mouth guard to protect your teeth from a traumatic injury. Custom-made ones can give you a good and firm grip.
- Cut Down On Sugar – To prevent cavities from developing in the first place, you should cut down on sugary foods and drinks. Even medicines contain sugar, so you should consider asking your doctor about sugar-free alternatives.
- Do Not Smoke – Those who smoke are at a greater risk of tooth decay and loss. Smoking can also worsen oral health by causing gum disease and even cancer. That’s why it’s best to quit smoking as soon as possible.
- Regular Check-up – Regular visits to the dental clinic can ensure that you get early treatment for a problem that’s still developing (like cavities). This can prevent you from ending up with a dead tooth.
Can You Whiten Dead Tooth?
It is possible to bleach the internal structure of the tooth, so you can get a dead tooth whitened. However, the results are usually not predictable. That is why dentists usually recommend veneers or crowns instead for better aesthetic results.
How Long Can A Dead Tooth Stay In Your Mouth?
Dead teeth remain in the mouth for varying periods of time depending on how badly they have been damaged (decay or injury). It can be a few days to a few months. Eventually, it will fall out on its own. However, this does not mean that you should delay treatment because it can worsen your oral health.
Can Dead Tooth Nerves Regenerate?
Once the tooth pulp has died, it is not possible for the nerves of a dead tooth to regenerate themselves. With no blood supply to the tooth, it cannot undo any damage or try to repair itself. The dentist can try saving the remaining structure of the tooth, but the dead tissue cannot be regenerated.
While a dead tooth may seem like a localised problem, left untreated, it can cause damage to the surrounding tissue. If the infection spreads to the whole body or parts of it, it can be fatal. In the event of cavities or tooth damage resulting from an injury, you should visit your dentist immediately. Early treatment can help save some of your tooth structure so that you won’t need more invasive treatment.