5 Things You Need To Know About Necrotic Teeth
You may not think of your teeth as being made of living tissue, but they are, and like other tissues, they can die. Dead teeth are also called non-vital or necrotic, and they're a big problem. Here are five things you need to know about necrotic teeth.
Are teeth alive?
To understand how teeth can die, you need to understand a bit more about the tissues that they're made of. The white, outer layer of your teeth, called the enamel, isn't a living tissue. Enamel is made of minerals like calcium. The dentin is the layer of teeth beneath the enamel, and while it's softer and more sensitive, it's also made of minerals, and isn't alive. Beneath the dentin, at the center of the tooth, is the pulp. The pulp is a living tissue and it's made of blood vessels and nerves. When dentists talk about necrotic teeth, they mean that the pulp inside the tooth is dead.
How does pulp die?
Pulp dies when bacteria makes its way through the enamel and dentin and into the pulp. The bacteria leads to infection and inflammation of the pulp, but since the pulp is trapped inside your tooth, the swelling damages the pulp and eventually kills it.
There are lots of ways that this can happen. If you have a large cavity that eats its way through the enamel and dentin, bacteria and food particles will have an easy pathway to reach the pulp. The same thing can happen if you have a traumatic injury to your tooth (like a crack or serious chip) that exposes your pulp. It can also happen if your teeth are moved too quickly during orthodontic treatment.
What are the signs of necrotic teeth?
When pulp first becomes infected or inflamed due to bacteria, you can expect pain and sensitivity to hot and cold. At this point, you should have your toothache treated by a dentist, but if you don't, the pulp will die. When the pulp dies, you'll experience relief from the toothache. Once the nerves and blood vessels inside the pulp are dead, there's no way for pain signals to be transmitted from that tooth. Your tooth may also take on a grey or black color due to the dead pulp.
Are necrotic teeth serious?
Your toothache will stop when your pulp dies, but that doesn't mean that your problems are over. Once the pulp is dead, the inside of your tooth becomes a pathway for bacteria. Bacteria can travel down beneath your teeth and form an infection at the base of your tooth, known as an abscess. Abscesses can be life-threatening, so you don't want to let your tooth get to this point.
How are necrotic teeth treated?
Necrotic teeth are treated by removing the dead pulp from inside the tooth and replacing it with an artificial filling material. This procedure is known as a root canal treatment, and you've probably heard about it before. Despite the horror stories you may have heard about root canal treatments, they're a routine dental treatment and aren't anything to be afraid of.
If an abscess has formed beneath your tooth, root canal treatment may not be enough. Your tooth may need to be pulled out to allow the infection underneath it to drain. Your dentist may also give you a prescription for antibiotics to kill the bacteria.
The pulps inside your teeth are alive, and like other living tissues, they can die. If your severe toothache suddenly goes away, you should be concerned, not relieved, as this could be a sign that your pulp has died. If this happens to you, make sure to see your dentist right away. If you have a kid complaining of a toothache as well, you should take them to a kids' dentist as soon as possible in case they have exposed pulp.