What is a Dead Tooth?

Tooth model cross section with dental tools on black wooden tabl

Discover what a dead tooth is and what the options to treat this common dental issue are, and where to go for dental help for your dead tooth before it worsens. 

Do you think you or someone you know may have a dead tooth? The first thing you and others who are close to you will notice is the smell. Similar to fruits and vegetables you bought and never ate, your tooth gets rotten and starts to release a foul smell. Inside your mouth, you may have a rotten taste and pain. You may feel pain in the dying tooth or the gums surrounding the area and the tooth may become loose as well. Discoloration of your tooth will happen, affecting the pearly whites of your smile, since the dying tooth may be yellow, light brown, gray, or even black in appearance. 

What is a Dead Tooth?

Lots of people don’t think of our teeth as living and just see them as bone, but your healthy teeth are “alive” and made up of hard and soft tissues. Your soft tissue is important for keeping your teeth healthy. The inner layer of your tooth is called your pulp, and if your pulp is damaged or decays, it stops circulating blood to your tooth. From there your tooth becomes more susceptible to infections and could cause the nerve to die. 

A dead tooth can be caused by a number of things. Trauma /injury to your tooth is a common cause for your tooth to die. Maybe you got hit by a pitch with a baseball or even face-planted teeth first on concrete (ouch), both injuries could possibly cause enough trauma on your nerve for your tooth to die. Your tooth can die rather quickly, in some cases it’s only a few days. Though your tooth can die more slowly, which could be over several months or years.

Like most dental issues, a dead tooth can be caused by a lack of proper dental hygieneCavities that are left untreated can slowly destroy your tooth. Since cavities begin on the enamel (the outer protective layer of your tooth) when untreated, they slowly eat away at the enamel and reach the pulp. This will lead to your pulp becoming infected, cutting off blood to the pulp and over time causing it to die. Once the pulp starts decaying, you will likely be in pain.

What does a dead tooth look like?

A dead tooth will often have discoloration or looks like it is bruised. Often you’ll notice a black or grayish tint on the tooth. 

How do you treat a dead tooth?

  • Root canal: If your tooth is intact, a root canal and a filling or crown may help keep your tooth functional. A root canal procedure gets rid of the dead pulp and replaces it with a plastic-like material. Since your dead tooth can become brittle, then you get may a crown over the tooth after the root canal treatment to keep it strong and supported.
  • Extraction: If your dead tooth is too damaged, it will need to be removed. During the procedure, your dentist will completely remove the whole tooth. After the extraction, you have a few options for replacement. You have the choice of an implant, dentures, or a bridge. It’s best to talk with your dentist about your options and see what’s best for your specific situation.   

Dead tooth root canal before and after

For your dental hygiene, your breath, and other people’s noses its best to get your dead tooth treated right away. Though not all dead tooth cases are preventable, making sure to practice good dental hygiene by brushing twice daily, flossing, and rinsing with mouthwash will make it highly unlikely for your tooth to die. See your dentist every 6 months so they can prevent any untreated cavities from getting out of hand. If you’re playing sports, make sure to wear a mouthguard to prevent any trauma to your teeth. If you have a dead tooth, see a dentist so that can see what treatment is right for you and your smile.