If you have a black—or severely discolored tooth—in your mouth, chances are pretty good it has either died or is on its way to being so. You may assume the tooth has to be extracted, but that's not always the case. It may be possible to save the tooth using a root canal. Here's more information about why teeth die and how a root canal can give them a shot at a second life.
Causes of Tooth Death
Teeth require a constant source of blood and nutrients to survive, something they get via the pulp, blood vessels, and nerves at their center. When the tissues inside a tooth dies, or deteriorates to a severe degree, the tooth itself may become non-viable. It will eventually discolor as the remaining blood cells die off and may develop or harbor an infection.
Tooth death occurs for a couple of reasons, with one of the most common being decay. When bacteria attack the pulp, it may cause inflammation that leads to swelling. This swelling often puts an enormous amount of pressure on interior blood vessels, inadvertently cutting off the supply line. When this occurs, the pulp begins to die and will be killed off altogether if the bacterial invasion is not sufficiently dealt with.
Another way teeth are killed off is through impact trauma, such as from being punched in the mouth or constant grinding. The trauma can sever the blood vessels at the base of the root, cutting off the supply to the tooth and leading to its demise.
The telltale signs of a dying tooth include pain (which may start as tooth sensitivity), yellow or black discoloration, and abscess or infection. Although a dentist can confirm 100 percent whether a tooth is dead or dying with x-rays, you can determine whether the tooth is completely gone by holding a piece of ice to it for a few seconds. If you can feel the coldness or pain, the tooth is still viable. On the other hand, If there's no reaction at all, then it is completely dead.
Treating a Dead Tooth
While the tooth may be non-viable, it's possible to save it as long as it is still intact. The dentist will typically perform a root canal to remove the infected interior parts. If the blood vessels haven't been completely killed off by the bacteria, this may restore some blood flow to the tooth, though it may not be enough to completely revive it. The dentist may fill the tooth with porcelain or metal to keep bacteria out. If the tooth is significantly weakened, the dentist may place a crown on it instead to provide structural support.
A root canal can cost anywhere from $300 to $2,500, depending on the procedure, material used, and your location. However, your health or dental insurance may pay some or all the cost of the procedure. It's worth contacting your provider to determine what benefits are available to you.
When the Tooth Can't Be Saved
Unfortunately, sometimes a dead tooth can't be saved. A dentist may declare the tooth non-repairable if there has been significant deterioration or the tooth has broken apart or collapsed. In this situation, the only option available is to extract it completely to prevent the infection from spreading to and damaging the gums and jaw bone.
However, that doesn't mean you'll be left with a hole in your mouth. Dental implants and an assortment of denture appliances can be used to fill in the gap left behind by the dead tooth. Your dentist can recommend a procedure that best fits your oral health, preferences, and budget.
For more information about treating a dead tooth or to make an appointment for a root canal, contact a local dental professional.