Updated: Nov 9
Dead teeth can be the result of trauma, infection, or past history of a root canal procedure which may cause it to become discolored. It will start turning yellow, grey, or even black in color if you leave them untreated which is NOT desirable and can ruin your smile.
The good news is that you can whiten non-vital teeth at home but they can be very stubborn in changing colors. That means you'll need to be extremely patient when undergoing this process, even more so than bleaching non-dead dentition.
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Methods to whiten your dead tooth at home
There are two ways that you can successfully whiten a non-vital tooth at home and that is with a whitening pen or customized whitening trays. Both of these methods will allow you to bleach a single tooth which is what we want to do. The vast majority of people will have a single tooth that has died and not an entire mouth full of them!
Ultimately the goal is to use a technique that permits us to bleach one tooth at a time.
Whitening pen method
This method involves using a teeth whitening pen, which comes in the form of a pen with a bristles on one end. You must click the opposite end to dispense whitening gel onto the brush head.
How to do it:
Brush and floss your teeth for a clean working surface.
Click the pen to dispense the gel.
Paint the gel on the dead tooth, both the cheek and tongue facing side.
Leave the gel on for however long it says.
Brush your teeth to remove the residue.
Examples of whitening pens:
Colgate optic white pen
Smiledirect club whitening pen
Philips zoom whitening pen
Aura glow pen
Using a whitening pen is the easiest and least expensive way to bleach a dead tooth at home. The advantage lies in the fact that it works similar to a paint brush where you can apply whitening gel to a single tooth.
That is advantageous because in the case for non-vital teeth it is one tooth that is discolored. You want to whiten just that one so that it can MATCH the adjacent teeth.
If you try to whiten all of them, that contrast in color will remain the same, which is counterproductive to what we want.
Customized whitening trays
The custom trays is a professional teeth whitening product that you must get from your dentist but the treatment can be done at home. The first thing you'll need to do is get impressions or molds of your teeth at the dentist so they can make your trays. Then you pick up the trays along with the whitening kit and rest at home.
How to use it at home:
Brush and floss your teeth.
Apply desensitizer to your teeth if it comes with it.
Squirt the bleaching gel into where the dead tooth is located in the tray ONLY.
Place the tray into your mouth.
Lightly squeeze the trays to make sure they're well adapted.
Brush off excess whitening material at the gum margins.
Let it whiten your teeth for stated duration of time.
Remove trays, rinse out and brush your teeth to get rid of residue.
Rinse off the trays and leave in unopened case to air dry.
Repeat steps #1-9 for however many days the treatment is supposed to last.
There are many different brands of custom take home kits but they will all require your dentist to make the trays for you. Some of them can be used during the day while others are meant for overnight whitening. You should read the directions carefully or ask your dentist.
Examples of different brands/products:
KoR Night take home
Opalescence custom trays
Since this is a professional product you can expect it to work better than an OTC one such as the pen. However you should also take into consideration that it will be more expensive than it as well.
Whitening pen vs custom trays - which is better?
In terms of whitening efficacy, the custom whitening kits from your dentist will inherently be more effective.
Comes in a higher concentration of hydrogen peroxide.
Trays are well adapted to your teeth.
Trays will also act as a saliva barrier to protect your teeth from it. This increases the efficacy of the whitening because saliva breaks down whitening gel due to its enzymes.
In terms of convenience and pricing, the whitening pen comes out ahead.
Costs a fraction of what any professional product will be.
Super easy to use and you can buy it at any pharmacy.
In our opinion, you should give the pen a try first to see if it works or not. That is typically what we personally recommend to our patients. If that doesn't work then you can move onto the take home custom trays.
Why traditional methods do not work
The rest of the at home whitening options will not work because they will whiten ALL of your teeth and that perpetuates the color contrast.
Although technically, these other methods will whiten the dead tooth but that isn't the result that we're looking for. For these cases we want that grey tooth which has died to simply match the color of the adjacent teeth. We don't want it to be as white as possible!
You need to understand that the problem in this situation is that there is a singular tooth that does not match the rest of the teeth. The problem isn't simply "teeth aren't white enough".
Therefore the solution to this is to have that one tooth match the rest of your teeth. The solution isn't to whiten all of your teeth indiscriminately. That would in fact make the problem worse.
Products that whiten all of the teeth perpetuates the problem
Dead teeth will whiten as long as the product contains hydrogen peroxide which is the main bleaching ingredient. The problem with most of the OTC products when it comes to a dead tooth is that they will whiten all of your teeth indiscriminately. That perpetuates the color contrast and prevents us from getting one tooth to match the adjacent ones.
Basically what happens is that the vital teeth will whiten by X amount but the dead one will also whiten by X amount. In essence, you've made zero progress on closing the gap and decreasing the contrast.
However what you should be aware of is that typically the dead ones have a more difficult time whitening. Therefore the teeth which are still alive will actually whiten MORE than X amount. That actually makes everything look worse in our opinion!
Whitening products that will make the contrast worse:
Pre-made trays with or without LED light
Think about how the whitening strips work. It won't just bleach one tooth, the strip is fairly long because it was designed to whiten most of your teeth at once. And therein lies the problem.
What if the at home methods don't work?
If the at home whitening does not work or doesn't give you the desired results, you will need to professional teeth whitening. Alternatively, your dentist also has other means of getting that dead tooth to match the rest of your dentition.
Internal bleaching. This technique will whiten the tooth from the inside out and is often called the "walking bleach method". Instead of placing the whitening gel on the outside of your teeth, your dentist will place it inside where the tooth nerve use to be. This will bleach the darkened interior dentin a lot more effectively.
Crowns. A more invasive procedure than whitening because the entire tooth needs to be shaved down. Your dentist will cover the grey tooth with all porcelain to mask the color.
Veneers. Similar to a crown except only the front half of the tooth gets shaved down. This may work for teeth that aren't as discolored or are just starting to change colors. For the more severe cases, the thin veneer will not be sufficient and a crown would be required.
In-office whitening. Not the most cost effective way to do it but you can do in-office bleaching. Just ask your dentist to whiten the dead tooth only. Your dentist will most likely still charge you the same fee as whitening all of the teeth because the kits are one use per patient! That is why we say it is not the most cost efficient.
You can give any of the above alternatives a try. What we would recommend against would be using unproven home remedies such as coconut oil pulling or even rubbing alcohol. Non-vital teeth are difficult enough to whiten even with proven methods so don't waste your time on the unproven ones.
You can certainly whiten a dead tooth at home because there isn't really a difference between the dead ones and the live ones. Hydrogen peroxide will oxidize all tooth stains.
However the problem with dead teeth is not necessarily that it isn't white enough but to be more precise, it doesn't match the adjacent teeth. Due to this reason, for the best cosmetic result you actually want to simply bleach it enough to make it the same color as the teeth next to it. For this, the best methods for doing it are ones which allow you to whiten a singular tooth.
Custom whitening trays but used on one tooth
Our goal is to just get the color to even out so that it blends in with the rest of the dentition. We don't want the teeth to be all different colors because uniformity is more aesthetically pleasing.