What is a dead tooth?

It might be the season of ghosts and ghouls, but what happens when your teeth reach the end of their lives? We answer the question: just what is a dead tooth?

What is a dead tooth - Notting Hill dentist Number 18 Dental

If your dentist has told you one of your teeth is effectively ‘dead’, they aren’t playing a Halloween trick. But just because your tooth is dead doesn’t mean it’s no longer useful. Below we look at what makes a tooth dead and whether there is anything you can do to prevent it.

What is a dead tooth?

Also known as a non-vital (non-living) tooth, a dead tooth is one that no longer has any blood flow to it. This is because the nerve serving that tooth from the tooth pulp is dead or dying due to infection brought about by tooth decay.

This begins as a cavity on the outside of the tooth and if left untreated slowly eats away into the enamel and eventually the pulp of the tooth. Over time it causes inflammation that eventually strangles the blood supply, killing the nerve.

Surprisingly, trauma to one or more teeth from an accident, sporting injury or even prolonged and severe jaw clenching or tooth grinding can also be one of the causes of a dead tooth as the blood vessels within burst.

Signs of a dead tooth

The signs of a dead tooth are usually a change in colour to a yellow or grey shade and the presence of pain, particularly where an infection is present. Though the nerve is dead, the pain is being transferred from nerve endings outside the tooth.

Sometimes there is no pain or you might not notice any discolouration, so only a dentist can spot the signs, usually with the help of an X-ray.

A dental abscess could also be triggered by infection, and can show itself as:

  • an inflamed sore or swelling on your gum
  • a bad taste in your mouth
  • a bad smell on your breath

Treatment for a dead tooth

If you aren’t a fan of the dentist, you may think that leaving a dead tooth is a better solution. But early intervention is important as it prevents the infection from spreading to your jawbone or the roots of other teeth.

It can also offer the best chance of saving the tooth through root canal treatment whereby the nerve will be removed, the canal thoroughly cleaned, and a filling or crown (cap that resembles your other teeth) inserted.

If a dead tooth can’t be saved it will need to be extracted, but don’t worry, there are plenty of options to conceal gaps with dental bridges and implants.

Prevention of a dead tooth

The best way to keep your teeth healthy and happy for longer is to brush up on your dental health! Simply brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste is a start, as is cutting down on starchy carbs and sugar, but there are plenty more easy hacks to look after your teeth. These include drinking water throughout the day, using mouthwash or chewing sugar-free gum after eating and flossing daily.

Why not check out our ultimate guide to brushing correctly, or contact our dental surgery in Notting Hill for a checkup?

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