How to Tell if a Tooth is Dead: Signs to Look For!

It is not unusual to suffer from some dental problems, and one of them is a dead tooth. You could be unaware that a tooth has died since the symptoms don’t always appear right away. A tooth can die if blood vessels are cut off by an injury, infection, or decay.

If you don’t get treatment in time or don’t notice that you have a dead tooth, it can cause more severe dental problems. Here’s what you need to know about how to tell if a tooth is dead.

What is a Dead Tooth?

A tooth is considered dead when there isn’t any blood flow in its pulp or root. When a nerve or blood vessels in the tooth’s inner chamber are compromised, bacteria can penetrate into the chamber, resulting in an infection.

What Causes a Tooth to Die?

A dead tooth can occur due to various reasons, including:

  • Untreated cavities
  • Teeth grinding or clenching
  • Physical trauma
  • Root canal treatment

Signs of a Dead Tooth

It is essential to identify if you have a dead tooth since leaving it untreated can cause severe dental problems that may require a root canal or tooth extraction. Here are some signs to look for:


One of the most apparent signs of a dead tooth is discoloration. A dead tooth can turn gray, black, or become darker than your other teeth. This occurs due to the decay of the internal tissue and dying blood vessels.


You may also feel pain when biting or chewing using the dead tooth. The pain can range from a mild ache to severe pain that can be unbearable when eating.

Bad taste in the mouth

A bad taste in your mouth can also be a sign of a dead tooth. The tooth may start to produce a foul smell, which can cause the taste in your mouth.

Swelling and Bleeding

You may experience swelling and bleeding in the gum surrounding the dead tooth. This occurs when bacteria that cause the infection spread to your gums, leading to bleeding or swelling.

Increased Sensitivity

An increase in dental sensitivity to hot or cold foods and drinks could also point to a dead tooth. Dead teeth cannot sense changes in temperature, which can trigger sensitivity in the surrounding teeth.

Lack of signs

In some cases, a dead tooth may have no symptoms, making it hard to detect. Visiting your dentist for regular check-ups is vital, as they can identify a dead tooth before it gets worse.

Diagnosing a Dead Tooth

If you think you have a dead tooth, schedule an appointment with your dentist. During a dental exam, your dentist will inspect your teeth and use a few tests to determine if your tooth is indeed dead.

Percussion Test

A percussion test, which involves tapping every tooth with a small dental instrument or pressure fingertip, can identify a dead tooth. The teeth that produce a sensitive or painful reaction during tapping could be dead, and your dentist will investigate further.


Another way to diagnose a dead tooth is by x-rays. An x-ray can show if the root of the tooth is dead, inflamed, or infected.

Treatment for a Dead Tooth

There are two primary treatments for a dead tooth:

Root Canal Treatment

Root canal therapy is the most commonly used treatment for a dead tooth. Your dentist will remove the dead tissue and bacteria from the tooth’s pulp chamber and root canals. Next, they will fill the tooth with a rubber-like material and seal it to protect against further damage.


Your dentist may recommend extraction in cases where the tooth is severely infected or damaged beyond repair. They will remove the affected tooth and replace it with a dental implant, bridge, or partial denture.

Preventing a Dead Tooth

Although not all instances of dead teeth can be prevented, practicing good oral hygiene can help prevent cavities and plaque buildup that can cause tooth decay. Here are some tips for preventing a dead tooth:

Brush Twice a Day

Brush your teeth twice a day to remove bacteria and plaque that can cause tooth decay. Use fluoride toothpaste and a soft-bristled toothbrush to avoid damaging your enamel.

Floss Daily

Floss daily to remove bacteria that have built up in the gaps between your teeth.

Visit Your Dentist Regularly

You should have regular dental check-ups and cleanings. This way, your dentist can spot dental problems early when they’re less severe and less painful to treat.

Wear Protective Mouth Gear

If you play contact sports or grind your teeth, wear mouthguards to prevent dental trauma that can damage your teeth and cause them to die.


It’s essential to identify if you have a dead tooth so that you can take the necessary steps to save it from more severe dental problems. Regular dental exams, good oral hygiene, and immediate treatment are critical for preventing dead teeth. If you suspect you have a dead tooth, schedule an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible.


How do I know if my tooth is dead or dying?

A dead tooth feels like normal teeth until the nerve is infected, and it experiences decay. If the tooth is dying, you may experience pain, sensitivity, and discoloration.

Can a dead tooth be saved?

A dead tooth can be saved through root canal treatment. In some instances, the tooth may be beyond repair, and extraction is necessary.

How long does it take for a dead tooth to fall out?

A dead tooth may take several months or even years to fall out. However, you should not wait that long to have it examined by a dental professional.

What do dead teeth look like?

Dead teeth may appear gray, black, or darker than surrounding teeth due to the decay of internal tissue and dying blood vessels.

How can I prevent my teeth from dying?

You can prevent dead teeth by practicing good oral hygiene, visiting your dentist regularly, wearing protective mouthgear, and avoiding biting down on hard objects or ice.


  • Markiewicz, M. R., & Zielinski, R. (2014). Endodontic diagnosis. Journal of conservative dentistry: JCD, 17(3), 193.
  • Grossman, L. I. (2018). Endodontic Practice. Elsevier Health Sciences.
  • Leye Benoist, F., Gaye, B., Kane, A. W., Sarr, M., & Touré, B. (2017). Root canal treatment in a West African population: a 5-year follow-up study. BMC research notes, 10(1), 291.

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