Updated on February 22, 2024
6 min read

How Long Can a Dead Tooth Stay in Your Mouth?

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A non-vital tooth, also called a dead tooth, no longer receives a fresh blood supply. This can cause the tooth to appear red, gray, light brown, and even black. 

A dead tooth can be painful and costly to treat. This leads some people to wonder if treatment is necessary or if the tooth will heal on its own. Although a dead tooth cannot heal itself, just how long can a dead tooth stay in your mouth without treatment?

The answer depends on the type and extent of damage to the tooth. In general, delaying professional treatment of a dead tooth leaves your mouth vulnerable to severe complications.

How Long Can a Dead Tooth Stay in Your Mouth?

Depending on the level of damage, a dead tooth can stay in your mouth for days, weeks, or even years before it causes severe complications. However, waiting for this to happen poses a major risk to your oral health.

Leaving a dead tooth in your mouth can lead to problems such as:

  • Tooth pain and discomfort
  • Infection
  • Cosmetic concerns over discoloration

Ideally, you should seek professional dental care at the first sign of a dead tooth.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of a Dead Tooth?

A dead or dying tooth may not immediately be noticeable. Sometimes it isn’t painful at all. Other times, a person may experience intense pain. The pain usually means the tooth decay is now affecting the pulp, which contains many nerve endings.

3d render of jaw and upper incisor teeth tooth with dead pulp

Tooth discoloration is one of the most obvious signs of a dead or dying tooth. Healthy teeth are usually some shade of white, though staining and yellowing can occur. A dead tooth might darken to a shade of red, blue, gray, or black that doesn’t match your other teeth.

Other signs of a dead tooth include:

  • Persistent bad breath
  • A bad taste in your mouth
  • Swelling around the gum line
  • An abscess near the root of the discolored tooth  

If you experience these signs, you should make a dental appointment. Your dentist may be able to take care of it before the problem becomes worse.

What Causes a Dead Tooth?

There are two primary ways a tooth may die:

Bacterial Infection

Teeth can become infected in several ways:

  • Cavities — A bacterial infection can result from poor oral hygiene. Bacteria infect the tooth, causing tooth decay. Untreated cavities can become deep enough for bacteria to reach the pulp, causing intense pain.
  • Cracked fillings or tooth structure — Bacteria can enter the tooth through a small crack in an old filling or the tooth itself.
  • Gum disease — A combined endodontic-periodontal infection can result if the gum disease progresses to the tip of the root. 

Tooth Trauma

Physical trauma is another common cause of tooth death. This may result from a sports injury, a direct blow, or an accident that involves a tooth injury.

Trauma can damage the blood vessels inside the tooth, leading to its death. 

Will a Dead Tooth Fall Out on Its Own?

If it experiences enough bone loss, a dead tooth may become loose and eventually fall out on its own, but waiting for this is not a good idea.

How Long Does it Take for a Tooth to Die?

How long it takes for a tooth to die depends on the severity of the injury or infection. It can take a few days to several months or even years.

Just because a tooth is darkened or discolored doesn’t mean it’s dead. The only way to know you have a dead tooth is to see a dentist for a proper diagnosis. 

What Happens if A Dead Tooth Stays in Your Mouth?

A non-vital tooth can cause damage to adjacent teeth if left untreated. It can also lead to life-threatening issues elsewhere in the body. 

Periostitis tooth Lump on Gum Above dead tooth due to cavity

The main risk is developing a tooth abscess, which can lead to sepsis, a life-threatening blood infection.6 It can also cause meningitis, a potentially lethal brain and spinal cord infection.6

Other possible complications from having dead teeth include:

  • Infection spreads to teeth, jaw, and sinuses
  • Inability to chew with the tooth due to pain
  • Impaired speech
  • Tooth loss

In addition, a discolored or black tooth may make you feel self-conscious, negatively affecting your quality of life.

When to See a Dentist for a Dead or Dying Tooth 

You should see a general dentist immediately if you identify signs of a dead tooth. 

Regular dental health exams may detect problems earlier when they are easier to treat. A dead tooth can quickly become a serious, even life-threatening, issue without treatment. 

Treatment Options for a Dead Tooth 

Treatment for a dead tooth depends on the level of decay. The two main courses of treatment are:

Root Canal

A dentist may recommend a root canal treatment if the rest of the tooth and surrounding bone is healthy. This can save the tooth.

During this procedure, the dentist makes a hole in your tooth to remove the pulp. After removing the pulp, the dentist will clean the inside of the tooth, seal the roots, and place a filling. 

Your dentist may fit the tooth with a dental crown following root canal treatment.

Tooth Extraction

If the decay has spread too far, the dentist may recommend extraction (pulling the tooth). In this case, the dentist removes the entire tooth to prevent further infection. The dentist can replace the tooth with a denture, dental implant, or bridge.

How to Prevent a Dead Tooth 

You can avoid the pain of a root canal or tooth extraction by keeping your teeth healthy. 

Here’s how to do that:

Dental Hygiene

Brushing your teeth twice a day will reduce the risk of developing cavities. Dental floss can remove food between the teeth and near the gums as well. 

Healthy Lifestyle

A healthy diet goes a long way in preventing dental health issues. Eating sugary foods will lead to a higher risk of tooth decay.

Regular exercise is important to promote blood circulation. But if you play contact sports, use a mouth guard to protect your teeth from trauma.

Regular Dentist Check-Ups

See your dentist regularly. A dentist can identify and treat problems before they become too big. They can also teach you good oral hygiene to keep your teeth healthy. 

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A dead or non-vital tooth is a tooth that no longer receives blood supply. It will not heal on its own. 

Depending on the type and severity of the damage, a dead tooth can take days, weeks, or years to become infected. An infection from a dead tooth can spread throughout your body.

A dental professional can treat a dead or dying tooth with root canal treatment or tooth extraction.

Last updated on February 22, 2024
6 Sources Cited
Last updated on February 22, 2024
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. Abscessed Teeth.” American Association of Endodontists, nd.
  2. Endodontics.” American Association of Endodontists, nd.
  3. Hupp, JR., and Ferneini, EM. “Head, Neck and Orofacial Infections: An Interdisciplinary Approach.” Elsevier Health Sciences, 2015.
  4. Tooth.” American Dental Association, nd.
  5. Tooth decay.” NHS Inform, 2023.
  6. Patel, K, and Clifford, DB. “Bacterial Brain Abscess.” The Neurohospitalist, 2014.
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