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What to Expect If You Have a Dead Tooth

dead tooth

A good oral hygiene routine is important not just for the health of your mouth, but for the health of your overall body.

Most of us know this and do the best to take care of our teeth and gums, but it’s important to know the warning signs of certain conditions anyway.

A dead tooth can result from tooth decay or an injury or accident, but you can’t always tell if a tooth is dead just by looking at it. It’s important to know the potential warning signs so that you can see a dental professional as soon as possible to get their diagnosis.

Knowing the signs of a dead tooth — and what to expect if you do have one — can make the process seem less scary and unsure.

Read on to learn everything you should know about this condition and its causes, symptoms and treatment options.

1. What Are The Causes?

A tooth is considered to be dead or “non-vital” if there is no longer any blood flow to it. This can happen as the result of tooth decay, or as the result of trauma to the tooth.

Tooth Decay

Tooth decay first results in cavities, and untreated cavities can cause a tooth to die. Untreated cavities will eventually reach the pulp layer of a tooth, which allows bacteria a way in.

Healthy pulp will do its best to fight off any infection that the bacteria brings, but eventually, the pressure inside the pulp will become too high. The blood supply to the tooth will be cut off. That results in the tooth’s death.

Tooth Trauma

Even if you maintain the best dental hygiene, it is still possible for your tooth to die.

A sports injury or hard fall can cause blood vessels to burst and the blood supply to your tooth to be cut off. That kind of physical trauma can cause the nerve or other living tissue in your tooth to die.

2. What Are The Signs?

You should know what a dead tooth looks like, but it’s also important to realize that you may not see any physical difference even if your tooth is actually dead.

Signs of a dead tooth can include:

  • Pain, which can range from almost unnoticeable to excruciating
  • A bad taste or bad smell resulting from an infection
  • Swelling
  • A change in the tooth’s color; a dead tooth will often darken

If you’re experiencing any kind of tooth pain or discomfort, you should schedule an appointment with your dentist. An x-ray is often helpful in revealing whether or not a tooth is dead.

Keep in mind that only a dental professional can accurately diagnose a dead tooth, and the sooner you are diagnosed the better it will be for you in the long run.

3. What to Expect If You Do Have a Dead Tooth

If you are diagnosed with a dead tooth that your dentist cannot repair, you should be aware of the treatment options available.


Extracting or removing a tooth that has died is a relatively simple relatively painless form of treatment.

You should expect to receive either local or general anesthesia for the procedure, depending on your preference or the recommendation of your dentist.

In most cases during extraction, the tooth will be gripped tightly and then pulled from the gums. In the event that this is not possible because of how impacted the tooth is, the tooth will be broken up into pieces before being removed.

Following the surgery, you will need to rest. The extraction site may bleed, so be prepared with gauze that you can change as it becomes saturated with blood.

An ice pack may be helpful in minimizing the pain. You should stick to soft food and avoid drinking from a stray for several days after your procedure.

Root Canal

If it’s at all possible, a root canal is a preferred way of treating a dead tooth because it allows your dentist to save the tooth instead of having to pull it.

During a root canal, your dentist will aim to remove any infection from your tooth and your tooth root. After removing the infection, the area will be thoroughly cleaned as sealed in an attempt to prevent any further infection from happening.

Your dentist will then fill your tooth permanently.

A root canal can be a lengthy procedure, but any resulting pain usually disappears quickly.

4. Prevention

After experiencing and being treated for a dead tooth once, you will want to do everything in your power to prevent it from happening again.

While accidents and injuries to your tooth are impossible to predict and difficult to prevent, there are ways to reduce your chances of having a tooth die.

From an oral hygiene perspective, you should brush your teeth at least twice a day using a fluoride toothpaste. You should floss at least once a day.

And, of course, see your dentist for teeth cleaning and checkups on a regular basis.

When playing sports or participating in an intense activity, wearing a gum shield or mouth guard can go a long way in helping you avoid tooth trauma.

There’s no guaranteed method that will allow you to avoid ever experiencing having a tooth die, but preventative measures can go a long way in reducing your risk.

Want to Know More About Protecting Your Oral Health?

One of the best ways to prevent a minor toothache from becoming an even bigger problem is to regularly schedule dentists appointments.

Our dentists can provide you with the services necessary to maintain a healthy mouth. They are there to give you the best treatment available when issues do arise.

We believe in educating our patients on good oral hygiene and prevention habits, so they can effectively protect their mouth health in between visits with us.

We invite you to explore our patient resources to see how we can help you. For additional information on any of the services we provide, or to schedule an appointment, please feel free to contact us at any time.

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