Dead tooth: what is it and why does it occur?

The presence of a dead tooth is a situation that can occur in the mouth and that, sometimes, is not detected with the naked eye. Other times the dental element may have a different coloration, present pain or show changes in the gum, but it will be a dentist who makes the correct diagnosis.

The dental elements are made up of hard tissues (enamel, dentin and cementum) that cover and protect the inner soft tissue that is the pulp. In the latter are the blood vessels and nerve fibers that give the tooth vitality, as they keep it irrigated and sensitive.

If the pulp is injured and damaged, the blood supply stops reaching the tooth and we are facing a non-vital tooth or a dead tooth. Necrotic pulp tissue is susceptible to infection or abscesses that can spread.

The tooth will be lost if you do not receive dental care in a timely manner. Therefore, in this article we tell you why dead teeth occur, what are their symptoms and how they are diagnosed. Also what are the possible treatments and what can be done to avoid pulp necrosis.

Why is a dead tooth produced?

As we already mentioned, a dead tooth appears when the dental pulp suffers an injury that damages its structure and it stops receiving the blood supply that keeps it vital. This process of pulp death can happen quickly, in a few days, or more slowly, taking months or years.

Pulp injuries can be caused by two main situations:

  • Infectious processes: caries is the most common cause of pulp death. Bacteria destroy the tooth from the outermost to the deepest layers. If the process advances because it is not treated and reaches the vicinity of the pulp, inflammation and even infection of the pulp is caused. Hard tissue destruction and pulp damage is often accompanied by severe pain.
  • Trauma to the tooth: When a tooth is hit by a fall, an accident or a sports injury, for example, the blood vessels leading to the tooth can break. When the blood supply to the pulp is cut, we will be faced with a dead tooth.

Although these are the most common causes, there are cases of dead teeth due to severe bruxism or idiopathic internal resorption.

Cavities can lead to a dead tooth, in addition to the condition itself that needs attention.

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Common symptoms

Identifying a dead tooth can be difficult because it does not present any obvious symptoms. However, the change in color of the tooth and pain are some of the signs most common associated with this pathology.

The change in tone of the tooth is due to the breakdown of red blood cells, as happens in bruises. It is characterized by being in a single tooth. That is, the affected piece has a different color compared to the other elements of the mouth. Yellow, light brown, gray or black can be observed, becoming more noticeable as time passes and the situation worsens.

Another symptom associated with a dead tooth is tooth sensitivity and pain. The intensity can be from mild to moderate or very intense.

It can appear when the pulp is just beginning to die and there is still inflammation, or when an infection sets in and pressure is exerted from within the tooth on the periodontal membrane that surrounds it. On this last case, the patient also has swollen gums, bad breath, pus, and a bad taste in the mouth.

How is a dead tooth diagnosed?

The diagnosis of dead tooth or pulp necrosis will be made by the dentist in the office. The physical, oral and radiographic examination will guide the professional to know if he is facing a dead pulp.

Having suffered a blow, noticing changes in tooth color or presence of pain, having large cavities of cavities or large fillings are elements that the dentist should consider. But sometimes there are no visible signs and the professional will have to resort to radiographic images to observe the state of the interior of the piece and its surrounding tissues.

It can also be useful to test response to extreme temperatures. The fact that the tooth does not respond to cold and heat usually indicates that the pulp is dead.

Treatments available for dead tooth

Treating a dead tooth as soon as possible is necessary so that the tooth has a better prognosis and to avoid complications. As we already mentioned, infection of the pulp is frequent and the spread of bacteria to nearby parts or other parts of the body is a possibility.

Seeing the dentist immediately is the best solution, but until definitive treatment is performed, symptoms may need to be alleviated. To counteract pain, avoid very hot and very hard foods and drinks. Heat or force when biting worsen the symptoms.

The use of anti-inflammatories to manage pain and antibiotics in cases of infection can be helpful. But its use should always be indicated by a health professional. The patient should never self-medicate.

Faced with a dead tooth, the therapeutic possibilities consist of performing a root canal treatment or the extraction of the tooth. The choice will depend on the particular clinical situation and the judgment of the dentist.

Root canal or endodontics

It allows to keep the tooth in the mouth. The dentist makes an opening in the tooth to access the pulp area.

With small instruments, remove the dead pulp tissue and clean the canal. The clean space is filled and sealed with a special material. Then the opening through which it was worked is filled.

In some cases it is necessary to place crowns or inlays to restore the lost anatomy, especially if the cause of the dead tooth was a large cavity of cavities or fillings in poor condition. On the other hand, After the treatment, the dentist may suggest whitening or the placement of an aesthetic veneer if it had changed color in a very noticeable way.

Dental extraction

When the dead tooth is too damaged, there is a lot of loss of dental tissue or it shows mobility and restoration is not a possibility, the extraction of the piece is the solution. In surgery, the dentist will completely remove the tooth from the bone that houses it.

There are several possibilities to artificially replace the lost item. Placing a bridge, an implant or a denture will be options that the dentist will propose depending on the clinical case and the possibilities and needs of the patient.

Endodontics or root canal treatment is an alternative that the dentist has to treat the dead tooth.

Prevention of dead tooth

Sometimes the death of a tooth cannot be avoided, but there are some behaviors that can help lower your risk:

  • Oral hygiene: practicing good oral hygiene, brushing your teeth three times a day and supplementing with rinses and dental floss prevents cavities.
  • Healthy diet: A variable and healthy diet, with a low intake of sugary foods, also reduces the risk of cavities.
  • Regular visits to the dentist: Having regular visits to the dentist helps keep your mouth healthy. In the event that there is a problem, the professional will detect them early in order to solve them in time.
  • Oral protection: Protecting the mouth with mouth guards during risky or contact sports can prevent trauma.

Also read: 5 habits that will help you take care of your dental health

Visit the dentist to save the tooth

When a dental element is very sensitive, hurts spontaneously or when chewing, or has a different color from the others, the ideal is to go to the dentist immediately. That the patient has halitosis, has received a blow to the mouth or has active cavities are also reasons to go to the dentist promptly.

As mentioned, these situations are related to the presence of a dead tooth. Treatment of this condition should be as fast as possible, as it can be complicated affecting the other teeth or other parts of the body. Likewise, the earlier the problem is detected, the more conservative the therapy will be.

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