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Dying Tooth: Things To Know

A dying tooth is a dental condition in which the tooth nerve is about to die; it's not dead yet but it will be soon depending on what caused on it.

discolored traumatized tooth
discolored traumatized tooth

Table of contents:

Dying tooth vs Dead tooth

A dying tooth denotes that it is not yet dead but is on its way there. The ultimate end result is complete tooth nerve death but it has not occurred yet.

A dead tooth denotes that the tooth has already died. It will not come back to life nor will it exhibit any signs of life. That means it will be devoid of all sensations such as being able to feel cold or hot foods and beverages.

completely dead tooth
completely dead tooth

This is an important distinction to make because the terms do carry a nuance to it. Although a lot of online resources seem to use the words interchangeably, but the semantics are clearly different.



When your tooth is dying, it will be sure to let you know alright. There are many ways that you can tell if you have this condition but the only sure way is to get a diagnosis from your dentist.

Signs and symptoms of a dying tooth:

  • Toothache. It may present with a severe toothache that feels like tooth nerve pain. Although on the flip side, there are times where it can be asymptomatic as well.

  • Tooth discoloration. You may notice the tooth is darker or more yellow than the adjacent teeth. It could just be ever so slightly darker.

  • Constricted canal. On a periapical (PA) x-ray, the canal will look constricted as if it shrunk when compared to adjacent teeth.

  • Decreasing sensitivity. That tooth is probably feeling less sensitive to temperatures.

  • Abscess. A tooth abscess or infection may precede the tooth dying. Surely after the infection you may find that the tooth has completely died.

If you notice any of the above signs or symptoms, you should schedule a consultation with your dentist. Get it checked out as soon as possible even if it turns out to be something else.



You won't be able to tell by yourself if the tooth is dying or not. A definitive diagnosis would require a pulp vitality test such as a cold test by a dentist.

endo ice cold test
Cold test

A cold test is when your dentist sprays a cotton pellet with cold air and then places said pellet on your tooth to collect information.

  • Does it feel the cold?

  • How long does it take to feel the cold?

  • How long does the cold linger?

Results which would indicate that a tooth is dying:

  • Delayed response. Despite the cotton pellet being extremely cold, it takes quite a few seconds before your tooth even realizes the stimulus.

  • Lingering cold. After the cold pellet is removed from the tooth, the sensation will linger for many seconds afterwards.

  • Barely feels the cold. The tooth feels the cold but only barely. Normal teeth will feel an immediate sharp sensation.

A healthy tooth would not have a delayed response to cold because it will feel it within 1-2 seconds. The cold should only linger for about 3-5 seconds at most.


There are a couple of conditions which may induce the tooth to begin dying.

  • Trauma. Any type of injury (sports or accidents) to the face can traumatize the tooth. It can die immediately or slowly over a long period of time.

  • Tooth decay. Cavities that are left untreated can grow through the stages of tooth decay and eventually cause the tooth to die.

  • Large filling. Large fillings or other restorations that are close to the nerve but not into it can still kill the tooth. The pulp gets extremely irritated until it gives out.

  • Infection. A severe dental infection could invade the pulp and cause it to die.

  • Biting hard foods. Biting into something hard the wrong way can cause it to die. It is equivalent to sustaining trauma except this situation is due to eating.



The only treatment for a dying tooth would be a root canal which is when the unhealthy nerve gets removed. Once it is completed, the tooth will be considered to be permanently dead. That is the only option if the tooth is symptomatic.

Although if the tooth is asymptomatic, you can potentially wait for the tooth to become dead before you get the root canal. We've observed for some of our patients where it takes many years before the tooth completely dies. However we've never seen a tooth recover from the dying state so ultimately you'd still need the procedure done.

Alternatively you can also have the tooth pulled if you don't want to go through with the root canal. The downside is that you'd be missing a tooth when you smile afterwards.

Can you treat it naturally?

Unfortunately there is no home remedy that can bring your tooth back from the brink of death. As a matter of fact, technology has not advanced far enough to bring any life form back from death. Therefore the answer is no.


Prevention may be impossible but good oral hygiene practices does minimize the chances for mishaps. It would be prudent to brush twice a day and floss before going to bed. You should also go get routine dental check ups so that your dentist can catch problems whilst they're small.

In addition to that, if you do play sports perhaps you should have a custom mouth guard made to protect your teeth from trauma. After all, injuries to the teeth do play a big role in the teeth dying.


After you finish the root canal and get a crown on the tooth, there isn't anything special that you need to do for it. You take care of it as if it was like any other tooth in your mouth. Brush it, floss it, and use some mouthwash. It doesn't get any simpler than that.

Just be sure that you keep it clean because even after the tooth has died, it can still get cavities. Yes, the bacteria in your mouth don't care if its dead or alive. That's everything that our dentists in Long Island City have to say about this dental condition.



David Chen 200 x 200.jpg

About the author: Dr David Chen, DDS

Hello, I'm Dr Chen and I'm an actively practicing dentist in Long Island City, NY. I graduated from Columbia University College of Dental Medicine in 2016 but prior to going to dental school I was already working in the dental field. It's been more than a decade since I first got to know dentistry and let me tell you, time flies by quickly. Since then I've developed a fondness for writing, which is how this all got started!

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Medical Disclaimer:

This blog is purely meant for information purposes and should not be used as medical advice. Each situation in your mouth is unique and complex. It is not possible to give advice nor diagnose any oral conditions based on text nor virtual consultations. The best thing to do is to go in person to see your dentist for an examination and consultation so that you can receive the best care possible.

The purpose of all of this oral health information is to encourage you to see your dentist and to inform you of what you may expect during your visit. Due to the unfortunate nature of dentistry, there isn't really any true home remedies that will get rid of dental problems. Roughly 99.99% of them require in-person intervention by a healthcare professional.

Hint: That is the reason why you can't eliminate seeing dentists in your life!

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