Doctor and patient at Great Lakes Dental

What Is a Dead Tooth?

A dead tooth essentially stops receiving a fresh supply of blood containing oxygen and nutrients. A lack of blood supply or ruptured blood vessels can cause the tooth to get infected and die. 

The inner cavity of each tooth contains the tooth pulp, a soft tissue made up of blood vessels and nerve endings. The tooth remains "alive" as long as nutrients and oxygen keep flowing through the blood vessels to the pulp. Good daily oral hygiene and regular dental checkups also help maintain healthy, functional teeth.

A tooth can die for various reasons, but our skilled team at Great Lakes Dental can help identify the signs of a dead tooth and how to implement the proper treatment to help save it. 

Signs of a Dead Tooth

Healthy teeth are usually a shade of white to off-white. Any discoloration from foods or red wines will most likely affect all of your teeth. The first suspicious sign of a dead tooth is one that has a different color from the rest of your teeth. The discoloration is evidence of dying red blood cells. Other signs to look for include:

  • A tooth that persistently appears bruised, yellow, brown, gray, or black
  • Discoloration that gets worse over time
  • Swelling around the gum line
  • Tooth or gum pain (usually from dying nerves)
  • Puss-filled pimple on the gum (sign of abscess)
  • Bad breath or a bad taste in your mouth
  • Unusual tooth sensitivity

Causes of a Dead Tooth

A dead tooth is ultimately the result of infection or damage to the tooth pulp caused mainly by untreated cavities and pulp cavity injury.


Poor oral hygiene causes plaque and tartar to build up on the teeth. Bacteria in tartar contains acids that slowly destroy the tooth enamel and cause a cavity. Eventually, bacteria enter the pulp via the cavity (hole) and an infection develops. Swelling from the infection puts pressure on the pulp and eventually reduces or cuts off blood supply. The decayed tooth starts dying as a result.

Tooth injury or trauma

Getting hit on the mouth from falling or playing sports can damage the tissues, ligaments, or bone around the tooth. The condition, called tooth luxation, may lead to reduced blood supply to the pulp. Without dental treatment for tooth trauma, the pulp and nerves may starve and die.

Preventing a Dead Tooth

Preventative measures, such as wearing a mouthguard while playing sports, will help protect your teeth from injury. Other ways of preventing a dead tooth and protecting your teeth include:

  • Brushing and flossing daily
  • Avoid biting hard objects, e.g., ice
  • Upkeeping routine dental exams and cleanings
  • Wearing a nightguard for teeth grinding

If you suspect you have a dying tooth based on the signs and symptoms, contact your dentist right away. The pulp will continue to fight off any infection, which improves the chance of saving the tooth. Your dental professional will do an oral exam to determine the extent of the damage and create a treatment plan to help restore tooth functionality.

Saving a Dead Tooth 

Healthy teeth and gums are essential for a radiant smile and to protect you from systemic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Therefore, it's understandable if dead tooth symptoms are causing you to worry. Fortunately, your dentist might be able to preserve the tooth even after the pulp becomes non-vital.

Root Canal Therapy

Root canal therapy is a standard treatment for saving a dead tooth from further decay. The procedure is done under anesthesia and involves the removal of the dead tissue or pulp from the pulp chamber. The pulp chamber and root canals are then sterilized and filled with a special dental material.

Your dentist may cover the treated tooth with a dental crown to protect it and improve bite function. The tooth will remain functional, although you won't experience sensitivity to hot or cold or pain once the infected pulp and nerves are removed.

Seeking treatment right away also helps protect the tooth from breaking and preserves your natural smile.


If the tooth cannot be saved, extraction is usually necessary to prevent infection of nearby teeth. Several tooth replacement options are available for you to explore, including dentures, bridges, and dental implants. Currently, implants are the gold standard for permanent tooth replacement. They look just like your natural teeth and can last a lifetime with good oral care.

Schedule an Appointment at Great Lakes Dental

The Advanced Smile Professionals at Great Lakes Dental can perform a comprehensive oral exam to determine the best course of treatment if you think you may have a dead tooth. Schedule a visit with us today.