Basically, your teeth have three layers – pulp, dentin, and enamel. The pulp is where the nerves and vessels lie. Dying or dead nerves in the pulp generally lead to a ‘dead-tooth’.
A tooth is called a ‘dead’ or a ‘non-vital tooth’ when there is no longer any fresh blood flow to it. The dead nerve in the pulp is hence referred to as a pulpless tooth or a necrotic pulp.
The discolouration is the first sign of a dying tooth that may lead to pain in your tooth or gums. However, some people may feel pain while the nerve is dying, and some may not experience it until the tooth decays and the nerve dies.
Even though your teeth may be a shade of yellow due to staining agents like coffee or cigarettes, a dead tooth will appear like its bruised (usually light brown, grey or black).
The discolouration is usually striking as you may be able to notice the tooth getting dark yellowish, grey or black progressively if it is left untreated.
There are two primary reasons for a tooth becoming dead – trauma & decay.
Due to the lack of consistent oral hygiene or bacterial infection wearing out the enamel, the pulp may witness inflammation to fight off these bacteria. The blood supply to the nerve gets cuts off due to high pressure leading to a dead tooth.
An injury or fall during sports or a road accident may cause the blood vessels to burst, leading to the death of the pulp and eventually, the tooth.
Root canal treatment or the endodontic treatment process involves treating a decaying tooth while keeping it intact. The abscess at the tip of the root of a tooth causes swelling and inflammation which is treated to restore the tooth’s normality in the chewing organ.
The treatment begins by removing the infected pulp and then disinfecting or cleaning the inside of the tooth. The root canals are then filled & sealed, and the crown (top part of a tooth) is restored for protection.
The tooth continues to function like a normal tooth, maintaining your natural smile and bite.
If you are too late to recognize the problem, then treatment is not an option and the dentist may have no choice but to extract the tooth. The process is fairly cheaper and painless, to your relief.
However, you may always replace that particular tooth with a dental prosthetic after removal. Most people avoid getting their tooth extracted, and a good dentist will always recommend a root canal procedure wherever they can to save your natural tooth.