Signs & Symptoms That You Have a Dead Tooth

Signs & Symptoms That You Have a Dead Tooth
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Signs & Symptoms That You Have a Dead ToothClinical Content Reviewed by Dr. Jay Khorsandi, DDS
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Table of Contents

  1. Signs of a Dead Tooth
  2. How Does a Tooth Die
  3. What Happens From Non-Treatment
  4. Treatment for a Dead Tooth
  5. References

When the blood flow is cut off to a tooth, the inside (the dental pulp) can become necrotic and the tooth can “die.”

A dead tooth is often noticeable because of pain and discoloration. Most of the time, a dead tooth is caused by trauma to the tooth, including injury or tooth decay.

A dead tooth will need to be treated before it falls out. The tooth will fall out eventually if you do nothing about it.

Dead teeth are most commonly treated through a root canal, which removes the dead or infected pulp. The outside of the tooth can often still be saved. If it cannot be saved, the dead tooth will need to be removed.

Consult your dentist if you notice tooth pain or discoloration. They will come up with a treatment plan to either save whatever is left of the tooth or remove it before more damage is done.

Signs of a Dead Tooth

The inner layer of your tooth contains the dental pulp, which houses blood vessels and nerves. It is the part of your tooth that is alive.

Inflammation and infection in the dental pulp can cause it to become necrotic, which means it dies off. This causes blood to stop flowing to the tooth, and it is then considered a nonviable or dead tooth.

You may not even know when you have a dead tooth. It takes a dental professional to diagnose one. However, there are two main signs that can indicate a dead tooth: pain and discoloration.

When the tooth becomes infected, it often is painful. In addition to a toothache, you can experience the following:

  • Tooth sensitivity
  • Bad breath
  • Bitter taste in the mouth
  • Swelling of the face and area around the tooth
  • Redness in the gums and surrounding areas

A toothache is a common sign for an abscess, or tooth infection, which can also mean that the nerves are dying. A dead tooth can cause a significant amount of tooth pain, or it may cause none at all. It ranges significantly.

Another major sign for a dead tooth is a change in color. Healthy teeth are a shade of white, while dead teeth can become darker. It can appear yellow, gray, or black. It will get darker and more discolored the longer it goes untreated.

How Does a Tooth Die?

The main causes for a dead tooth are injury or trauma to the tooth and tooth decay. Pulp can become necrotic from a bacterial infection or direct impact.

Tooth decay starts on the outside of a tooth, breaking down the enamel. Then, it can create a hole, or cavity, in the tooth where bacteria can get inside. This allows the bacteria to reach the dental pulp.

Once the infection has reached the pulp, the bacteria start to kill the pulp, creating an abscessed tooth. A tooth infection, or abscess, is a secondary condition that is often caused by a cavity or damage to the tooth. An untreated tooth abscess can lead to a dead tooth.

Injury that causes trauma to the tooth can burst the blood vessels leading to it. This can also kill off the nerves and pulp inside of the tooth, resulting in a dead tooth.

Dead or dying nerves found in the pulp will lead to a dead tooth, and a dead tooth will no longer have any blood flowing to it.

What Happens if You Do Not Treat a Dead Tooth?

If you do not do anything about a dead tooth, it will eventually fall out by itself. This is an issue for a number of reasons.

Once a tooth falls out, your other teeth will shift to fill the gap. This can result in an uneven bite and impair your ability to smile, talk, and chew properly. A missing tooth can drastically change your appearance and jawline, often aging you in the process.

If the dead tooth was caused by tooth decay and infection, the bacteria can spread to other parts of the mouth. When the tooth falls out on its own, the infection is not cleared. An untreated abscess can lead to systemic infection that can become life-threatening.

Treatment for a Dead Tooth

A dead tooth is treated by one of two main options: a root canal or a tooth extraction. A root canal is an endodontic procedure that removes the necrotic pulp.

If the outside of the tooth can be saved, this is the best option. This can take a few dental visits to remove all of the affected pulp and clean out the surrounding infection. After a root canal, the inside of the tooth will be filled with dental material. Often, a crown will need to be placed on top of the tooth to strengthen, reshape, and stabilize it.

If the dead tooth is not salvageable, it will need to be extracted by a dental professional. After the site of the extraction has healed, your dentist can discuss options for a replacement, such as a dental implant, bridge, or dentures.

A dead tooth requires dental intervention as early as possible for the best possible outcomes. You can help to prevent dead teeth by practicing good oral hygiene and seeing your dentist regularly.


Pupal Changes. (2012). Contemporary Esthetic Dentistry. Date Fetched: August 3, 2021.

Dental Abscess. (January 2021). StatPearls Publishing. Date Fetched: August 3, 2021.

Endodontic Diagnosis: If it Looks Like a Horse. (November 2007). Dental Economics. Date Fetched: August 3, 2021.

What Is Dental Pulp? (June 2019). News Medical Life Sciences. Date Fetched: August 3, 2021.

Acutely Infected Teeth: To Extract or Not Extract? (May 2018). Original Research: Mouth and Jaw Surgery. Date Fetched: August 3, 2021.

Tooth Replacement Options. (2013). American Dental Association (ADA). Date Fetched: August 3, 2021.

Dental Abscess. (July 2021). BMJ Best Practice. Date Fetched: August 3, 2021.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.