Dead Tooth: An Overview of Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Human teeth are constructed of three layers that include the enamel, dentin, and pulp. Inside the pulp, there are small nerve fibers and blood vessels and they mainly keep your teeth functioning properly. When these nerve or blood vessels are damaged, the blood flow eventually stops and a tooth becomes a dead pulp. This condition is commonly termed as a vital or dead tooth.

Dead Tooth:  An Overview of Causes, Symptoms and Treatment


There are different reasons that gradually lead to a dead tooth but out of all those, two are most important:

  • Tooth Decay
    It generally starts on the outermost layer of your tooth and later, the cavity digs deeper into different layers. If the cavity is not treated on time, it’ll reach the pulp and create a pathway for bacteria which will result in the death of the nerves. This will increase the pressure inside the pulp that will cut off the blood supply and will kill the pulp, causing intense pain.

  • Tooth Trauma
    Sports injuries or falls lead to physical trauma that can burst the blood vessels or stop the blood supply. As the blood flow stops inside the tooth, nerves and other living tissues will gradually die inside the pulp and it’ll lead to a vital tooth.


It’s not at all easy to identify a dead tooth just by a glance. You need dental professionals to help you recognize such a tooth. This is one of the reasons why routine dental checkups are always advised.

However, here are the two main symptoms that will help you recognize a dead tooth.

  • Pain
    A vital tooth leads to varying levels of pain from non-existent to extremely painful. Many of you might wonder how a dead nerve would experience pain. So this isn’t coming from inside the mouth: it’s actually from the extremely sensitive nerve that’s ending around outside the mouth, known as the periodontal membrane.

  • Change in Color
    Dead tooth often turns to black in color and you can notice yellow, gray or black discoloration inside your mouth. It happens when the red blood cells start dying. It looks similar to bruising and mainly happens if the dying tooth is left untreated.


It’s advised that if you feel any of the aforementioned symptoms, then visit your local dentist ASAP, because early treatment is essential for a dead tooth. If left untreated, it’ll allow growth of bacteria which will later affect your jawbone and other teeth. Even if you don’t feel pain at first, but you suspect of having a dead tooth, you must consider medical advice on priority.

There are two options for treating a dead tooth.

  • Extraction
    If treatment of the tooth is not possible, then the dentists will have to remove it. That’s why early treatment is always advised for dead tooth. This process is comparatively cheaper than the other options and is very simple. Once the extraction is done, the dentist will replace it with a fixed bridge, implant or other prosthetic option.

  • Root Canal
    Most dentists don’t recommend extraction of tooth if at all possible. They advise a root canal. It’s also known as endodontics. This procedure aims to clear all infections from the tooth and root. Then that area is cleaned and sealed to prevent other infections. It’s a very lengthy procedure, so you’ll have to visit the dentist more than once. After the infection is removed, the tooth will be permanently filled. Since a tooth can be brittle, it’ll need a crown fitted to provide extra strength and support.

So, from here, it’s all on you how you use the information provided when you go through such circumstances. Do what you can to prevent trauma and decay. If you feel that you have a tooth that’s starting to show signs of dying, then you need to act fast.

Dr. Orest Frangopol is the Owner of OC Dental Implants, a leading dental office in the Orange County area. Dr. Frangopol is an expert in providing comprehensive implant services that include: single tooth dental implant, bone grafting, dental implants and full mouth reconstruction. He along with his team has a reputation of offering affordable dental implants combined with customized treatment for all his patients.

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