Nerves supply teeth with the ability to feel. They also provide nourishment for teeth. But tooth nerves are fragile. Once irritated or damaged, tooth nerves usually die. When this happens, you can't always tell. In many cases, when a tooth nerve dies, the patient experiences toothache followed by a dental abscess. But sometimes, the nerve inside a tooth dies quietly.
If the nerve inside a tooth dies, that tooth is then essentially dead. The tooth no longer receives nourishment from the body. Because of that, the tooth becomes brittle over time and may eventually break. This is why you need to be able to spot dead teeth before they become an issue.
If you suspect you have a dead tooth, look for the following signs.
Dead Teeth Turn Grey or Dark Yellow
When a tooth dies, the pulp, which is a combination of nerves and blood vessels, dies inside the tooth. This material then breaks down and begins to rot. This causes internal bruising, which eventually begins to show outwardly as a darkening of the tooth. Dead teeth are darker than their neighbors are and usually turn dark yellow or grey.
But be aware that some teeth appear more yellow because the thick dentin layer underneath the enamel is showing through. This is usually true of canine or molar teeth, which have thick layers of dentin underneath.
Dead Teeth Have No Feeling
Vital teeth or teeth with healthy nerves can transmit pain and sensation to the pain. This means that if you bite into a freezing cold ice cream, for instance, you should experience some discomfort if your tooth is alive. But because dead teeth no longer have a living nerve to transmit sensation, they feel nothing.
If you notice that a tooth feels different or doesn't seem to react to heat or cold, then it may well be dead.
Dead Teeth May Become Infected
Not all dead teeth hurt or suffer from infection. This is especially true if a tooth dies due to trauma and not tooth decay. Bacteria need to have access to the inside of a tooth in order for an infection to set in. But when that does happen, you will experience pain, inflammation, and swelling, which will gradually worsen over time.
In this case, an abscess forms at the root of the infected tooth. This is where all of the infected material goes, and eventually, the abscess will cause severe pain and be visible on your gum tissue as a small pimple.
Dead teeth can become a serious issue if you don't treat them. The best way to treat a dead tooth is to remove the dead or infected tissue with root canal therapy. You may then need a dental crown to provide the tooth with structural stability. Contact a local dentist to learn more.