What is a Dead Tooth?

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A tooth that is no longer receiving any blood flow, it is considered a dead tooth. A dead tooth can due to tooth decay or injury. There are three layers to a tooth—the enamel, dentin, and pulp. Dying nerves in the pulp of a tooth can lead to a dead tooth. A dead nerve is also known as a necrotic pulp. If a tooth has died, it will eventually fall out on its own. But this can take some time—and leaving it in while infected can lead to further infection in your mouth or jaw.


The first sign of a dead tooth is the pain. This can be tricky to self-diagnosis because there may be other reasons for your pain. You may also notice a change in color. Dead teeth will often (but not always) turn dark. Aside from a darker color, you may also notice a yellow or gray discoloration. The longer the tooth goes untreated, the more likely it is to change color. Only a dentist can diagnose a dead tooth, but if you suspect anything, see a dentist as soon as possible.

Pain caused by a dead tooth can vary. Some may not even be painful, whether as others may be extremely painful. If the nerve is dead or dying, you’re more likely to experience pain. When a nerve is dead, the nerve endings or the periodontal membrane will be very painful.

Infection that leads to a dead tooth may also include a bad smell, a bad taste, swelling, an abyss, or a pimple on the gums.


A dead tooth can be caused by tooth decay or tooth trauma. When a tooth starts to decay, it begins with the outmost layer of enamel, and eventually leads to a cavity. When left untreated, the decay can reach the pulp and the nerve of the tooth. A health pulp will work to fight off the infection, but even so, it can only fight for so long. As pulp increases, it will eventually cut off blood supply, killing the nerve, and then the pulp—leading to a dead tooth.

Tooth trauma happens when there is physical harm involved. This could be from a fall, a hit, a sports injury, and so on. If blood vessels burst, or the blood supply is cut off to the tooth, the nerve and pulp will die.


Treating a dead tooth as soon as you catch it will help you to prevent further infection. Unfortunately, the process is not reversible but it is treatable. The two options for treatment are extraction or a root canal. The tooth may be able to be preserved with a root canal—which can be a lengthy and painful process but will save you in the long run. If the tooth is not redeemable, you may need extraction. An extraction is a relatively fast and painless process. In this case, you can be able to fill the gap with a fixed bridge, implant, or prosthetic tooth.