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Dental Health

What is a Dead Tooth and What Can You Do about It?
Feb 1, 2023

man with jaw pain Dental Care Center

A dead tooth sometimes referred to as a “non-vital tooth,” is a tooth no longer receives blood flow. A dead tooth has dying or decayed nerves in the pulp, which is the layer of the tooth that contains blood vessels and nerves.  

Only a dental professional can identify a dead or dying tooth, but there are two symptoms that signal you may have a problem:

  • Pain from extremely sensitive nerve endings surrounding the outside of the tooth.
  • Change in color, causing the tooth to look darker or discolored.

The level of pain may vary, but an infection will cause the pain to increase. Keep an eye out for these signs of infection:

  • Bad taste
  • Bad smell
  • Swelling
  • A pimple on the gums

Just like when you get a bruise after bumping your arm, the change in color is due to red blood cells dying. The change in color can vary from yellow, gray, or black discoloration. Discoloration can get worse as time passes without seeking treatment.

The two main causes of a dead tooth are:

  • Tooth decay: cavities that are left untreated allow bacteria to enter the tooth and cause the nerve to die.
  • Tooth trauma: physical trauma to the tooth that can cause blood vessels to burst or the blood supply to the tooth be cut off.


Early treatment is essential. There are two treatment options:

  • Removal or extraction: if repairing the tooth is not possible, your dentist can remove the dead tooth and then replace it.
  • Root canal: a lengthy process with the goal of clearing all infection from the tooth and the root. Then the dentist will fill in the tooth.

It is easy to avoid a dead or dying tooth by taking a few precautions:

  • Brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste twice, especially before bed.
  • Floss at least once a day.
  • Avoid sugary foods and drinks.
  • Visit the dentist regularly.

Now that you know the signs, symptoms, and precautions, be sure to take care of your teeth. We want everyone to love their smile, so if you believe you are experiencing any of these symptoms, be sure to contact us for help.