How Long Does it Take for a Nerve in a Tooth to Die?

how long does it take for a tooth nerve to die

If you’ve cracked open a tooth and are experiencing a lot of pain, you might be wondering how long does it take for a tooth nerve to die. It’s important to seek the help of a dentist right away if you have damaged a tooth or are in pain. Waiting will only lead to bigger, more expensive problems.

How long does it take for a nerve in a tooth to die? In most cases, your nerve tooth pain will not go away until you address what’s causing the pain in the first place.

What Causes Tooth Nerve Pain?

In the above image, the red area signifies the “pulp” of the tooth. It contains both the blood supply and nerve. When that area of the tooth is damaged, it causes pain.

There are two primary ways in which the pulp of the tooth can be damaged enough to cause pain:


Occasionally, a tooth can die because of sudden trauma such as from playing contact sports or sustaining an injury during a fall or blow to the face. Injuries can crack the tooth all the way down to the pulp, creating an entry point for bacteria.

A tooth can also get cracked or broken from simply chewing on something that is far too hard for the tooth. This can include ice cubes, nuts, and candy.

If the crack isn’t taken care of then bacteria will quickly decay the pulp and kill off blood vessels. Without this vital blood supply, the tooth will quickly die.

However, as soon as the pulp is exposed, whether by a crack or an outright fracture of the tooth, pain will result which can be quite great in intensity. You should contact your dentist when this happens as only a dentist will truly be able to help you.


If tooth decay isn’t taken care of when it’s in the early stages then it will progress until it eats away most of the tooth. Eventually, the decay will go through the layers of your teeth into the pulp. Once the infection reaches the pulp, it will start decaying all of the healthy pulp and blood vessels.

While ultimately the tooth can die from this, it’s likely that the pain from the infection will cause you to run straight to your dentist.

If left untreated, a tooth infection can spread into the surrounding tissues including the jaw bone or facial bones. The longer the infection goes, and the wider the damage spreads, the more extensive and invasive the treatment will be.

Symptoms of a Dead Nerve In Your Tooth

If you’ve had an injury to your face then you might be wondering if you have a dead nerve in the tooth. There are a few symptoms that most people experience when they have a dead tooth.

Different Levels of Pain

Pain isn’t always an indicator that you have a dead tooth nerve. In fact, the pain isn’t coming from the actual dead tooth, but rather from the nerve endings around the outside of the tooth.

As infection builds up in the tooth, it causes swelling.   It’s this swelling that causes the pain. And for some people, the pain can be minimal but for others, it can be excruciating. The infection can also lead to an abscess, which is a pus-filled pocket around the tooth. Sometimes you can see a white pimple on your gum line that is extremely painful to the touch.

You can also experience pain as areas around the tooth become inflamed. Most commonly, inflammation and pain can spread to the gums, face, and neck.

Changes in Tooth Color

Another common symptom of a dead tooth is a change in color. Your tooth can change to grey, black, or even yellow as the blood vessels start to die off in your tooth. You typically won’t start seeing this change in color until the tooth has been left untreated for a long time.

Symptoms of Infection

One of the biggest indicators of a tooth infection is the pain the person experiences. Your pain level will increase as the infection causes more swelling in the tooth and gums. Infection can also cause these other symptoms:

  • Bad smell from the bacteria
  • A bad or bitter taste in the mouth
  • Fever
  • Tooth sensitivity to hot or cold
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
  • Swollen gums or jaw
  • A tender spot on the jaw that feels warm to the touch

Prompt treatment is key. If you experience these symptoms, it’s important that you get checked out by your dentist.

Diagnosis of a Dead Nerve Tooth

Most will seek medical help when their pain levels have escalated. Your dentist will then take a look at your tooth and the gum line to assess the problem. If your dentist suspects a dead tooth, then they will order x-rays which will be used to diagnose a dead tooth nerve.

How Long Does it Take for the Nerve to Die?

There’s no definitive answer to this because it’s different for every person. For some, it can take years as the infection slowly eats through the tooth. For others, a cracked tooth is a quick entryway for bacteria and can cause the tooth to die rather quickly.

If you have an infection in your tooth, your dentist can treat it with antibiotics. However, this is only a temporary solution and your tooth will die if the infection isn’t quickly removed.

How to Treat a Dead Tooth Nerve

There are two treatment options if you have a dead tooth. The primary goal is to remove the infection as quickly as possible before any complications arise. The secondary goal is to try everything possible to keep your tooth to maintain a healthy mouth in the long run.


tooth extraction

It’s important to try to do everything you can to save your tooth. However, there are times when the tooth is beyond repair and must be taken out. An extraction is a simple procedure and doesn’t take much time or cost a lot of money.

Before the extraction, your dentist will numb the area with a local anesthetic. Then the dentist will use forceps to gently guide the tooth out of your jaw bone. Occasionally, a tooth will need to be broken into pieces in order to be taken out.

What to Expect After the Procedure

After the procedure is complete, a blood clot will form where the tooth was. The dentist will then pack the area with gauze. It’s important to follow all recovery instructions and to change the gauze every 3-4 hours. You’ll also want to make sure you don’t drink from a straw for the first 24 hours. This is to prevent developing a painful condition called a dry socket.

You can also discuss with your dentist what your options are to replace the tooth. Most of the time, a dentist will recommend either an implant or a dental bridge.

Root Canal

If your tooth can be saved then your dentist will perform a root canal. Most people fear root canals but the procedure and recovery aren’t that painful when you have a good dentist/endondotist.

The procedure can provide relief from the pain associated with an infection. Anesthesia isn’t necessary since the nerve is dead. But your dentist will most likely still give you a local anesthetic to increase your comfort.

The dentist will then drill an access hole to remove the infection, remaining pulp, and other debris. Then, they will use files to scrape and clean the root canals. Afterward, the inside of the tooth is filled with a sealing paste. Most of the time, a dentist will also need to place a crown on top of the filling to restore your tooth. Otherwise, the tooth will continue to crack, resulting in more pain.

What Is Recovery Like?

If you had a large amount of pain from the infection, then recovery will be a relief for you. There might be some minimal pain for a few days that can easily be treated with over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen. If you will be getting a crown, it’s important to avoid chewing on that tooth until the crown is placed.

Root canal procedures have a 95% success rate. And most of the time, your tooth restoration will last a lifetime. After your crown is placed, others won’t even know you had the procedure done.

Why Save My Tooth If It’s Dead?

Contrary to popular belief, a dead tooth is simply a term and doesn’t reflect its function. The nerve only helps you detect hot or cold. When your nerve dies then the infected part of the tooth is removed. What remains is still a functional part of your mouth.

How to Prevent a Dead Tooth Nerve

The best thing you can do is avoid having to deal with a dead tooth. These are some of the ways you can prevent a tooth from dying and having to deal with the complications of one.

Practice Good Oral Hygiene

When it comes to your oral health, prevention is key. It’s important to properly take care of your teeth with regular brushing at least twice a day and regular flossing once a day. It’s also important to see your dentist every 6 months for checkups to check on the overall health of your teeth.

During these checkups, a dentist can spot tooth decay and remove it before it has a chance to cause your tooth to die. Quickly removing decay is also important before it has a chance to spread to other teeth.

Take Precautions If You Play Sports

It’s also important to wear a mouthguard if you play contact sports that put you more at risk for mouth injuries. If you do sustain an injury to your mouth, see your dentist right away to assess the damage. If you have a crack, it can be sealed before bacteria have a chance to get to your pulp.

Watch What You Eat or Drink

You’ll also want to avoid drinking sugary or acidic substances. The acid wears down the enamel and the sugar provides a feeding ground for bacteria. Instead, drink water which helps dislodge debris and bacteria from your teeth. Choose snacks such as baby carrots or apples, which help scrape bacteria off your teeth.

Use a Mouth Guard If You Grind Your Teeth

If you’re prone to teeth grinding then take steps to alleviate the strain on your teeth. Over time, you can wear down your enamel and provide an entryway for bacteria and tooth decay. If you grind your teeth at night then you can wear a mouthguard.

If you find yourself grinding your teeth during the day because of stress then find something to help you break the habit. Many find success with placing something soft in their mouth to remind them. Another great idea is to place your tongue between your teeth until you have trained yourself not to grind your teeth or clamp down your jaw.

Complications of a Dead Tooth Nerve

If you leave a dead tooth untreated then it could lead to some bigger complications. The infection can spread to adjacent teeth, to your gums, and even to your jawbone. A rare but serious complication of a tooth infection is sepsis.

Sepsis is caused when bacteria from the infection spread into your bloodstream. This is a life-threatening emergency that requires prompt medical attention. You can see why it’s important to go to your dentist right away if you suspect you have an infection or if you receive any trauma to your mouth or face.

Don’t Wait Until You’re In Pain

Even if you aren’t experiencing pain right now, the pain can escalate quickly. Some people have no pain and then wake up in such severe pain that they have to go to the ER. Make sure you take care of your infection before it reaches that point. Getting immediate treatment for a dying tooth is crucial.

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