How long does it take for a nerve in a tooth to die ? When you suffer from a tooth-ache, there are typically many thoughts that go through your head. But what about the treatment? Do you think that it may die, or can it be saved? You may wonder about the time taken for a tooth to die. Well, it’s different for every case.
Let us explore in a bit more detail:
For one, the blood supply to the tooth is absolutely vital. The tooth is made up of three layers:
1) The outer layer: Enamel
2) The middle layer: Dentine
3) The innermost layer: Pulp
The pulp is the region of a tooth where nerves and blood vessels are present and the region where the blood supply arrives from systemic circulation. Once the blood supply to the tooth ends, the nerves in the pulp chamber gradually die, and so does the tooth. Different names given to this dead pulp are: necrotic pulp, nonvital tooth or a pulpless tooth.
The time taken for it to die depends upon several factors that we shall discuss here.
How long does it take for a nerve in a tooth to die
Generally, a nerve in a tooth dies in the following way:
A Crack or a cavity in a tooth starts to invade the tooth layers. When the oral environment gets access to the tooth’s inner layers, the bacteria gains entry as well. Once the bacteria enters the pulp, your body will fight the infection to protect itself. This results in the inflammation of the pulp chamber which creates pressure, swelling, and pain in the pulpal region. If proper treatment is not done, the nerves in the pulp do not get enough oxygen and nutrients to survive. This gradually leads to pulpal necrosis because of the reduction in the blood supply which completely stops after a certain time leading to the death of the tooth.
The reason for this loss of the blood supply is not very clear, however the main reasons cited for it are:
1) Tooth Infection: When the tooth starts to decay, the bacteria start to invade different layers and eventually reach the pulp chamber. This bacterial decay can cause infection in the tooth nerve, which can lead to its death. As stated before, the healthy pulp fights with this invasion, but if proper treatment is not done in time, the pressure from the inflammation leads to the loss of the blood supply, and the tooth becomes devoid of oxygen and nutrients leading to its death.
2) Trauma: Trauma to the tooth because of any reason such as a fall, sports injury, face blow, or accident, can cause the tooth to die. Due to its impact on the tooth, the blood vessels can burst and stop its supply to the tooth resulting in its death. This stop in the blood supply can occur within a few minutes or sometimes can take months depending upon the injury.
Time taken by a nerve in a tooth to die:
The answer to this is not straightforward because it depends upon different conditions that a tooth faces. If the nerve is dying because of the infection, then the process will be slow and may take years to complete before the nerve dies completely. However, if due to the trauma, there is a sudden blow to the tooth and the fractured tooth has a direct entry for the bacteria to the pulp chamber, this can lead to a quick death of the tooth. Therefore, the time it takes for the tooth to become non-vital differs with each case.
Symptoms that a dying tooth shows:
The primary symptom is typically the experience of pain. In some, the pain can be minimal, while some may feel excruciating pain. This pain is not because of the dying tooth nerve itself, but because of the infection, the pressure builds up and the nerve endings surrounding the tooth become irritated. In some cases, this also leads to the formation of an abscess (a pus-filled pocket) which presents as a small, painful pimple-like swelling in the gum line. If not treated in time, the inflammation may spread to the surrounding regions of the tooth.
Another symptom that can be seen clinically is the change in the colour of a tooth. The non-vital tooth, without a live nerve, gradually changes its colour from yellowish-white to grey and, then black. Although this change in colour is not sudden, it takes years to see this change if the tooth is left untreated for a long time. The tooth gradually falls out but one should not wait for this to happen because it poses a risk of infecting the surroundings before its fall.
To achieve temporary relief from the pain, the patient may use some over-the-counter pain killers such as ibuprofen. But this will only give temporary relief and is not recommended as a long-term treatment. To get rid of the pain, and to save or restore the function of the tooth, one should opt for permanent relief. For that one should visit their dentist on priority.
There are normally two treatment options for a dying or already dead tooth:
1) Extraction: This is typical for cases where the spread of the infection is extensive and the tooth is beyond repair. This procedure is simple and does not take much time. The extraction takes away all the infection along with the tooth. When the tooth socket of the extracted tooth heals, the dentist plan to cover the space with a dental bridge or a dental implant to restore the function of the lost tooth. This is not an ideal scenario however it may be necessary in some cases.
2) Root canal treatment: If a tooth can be saved, then root canal treatment is a preferred choice. The infection from the tooth can be removed by the root canal procedure and later the tooth can be capped to preserve its strength and function. This is the best option as it preserves the old tooth and, although the tooth is dead, it serves its function in the oral cavity.
Whether a dead tooth can be saved or not? Whether the pain can be relieved permanently? Everything will get sorted once you visit your dentist. Pain relievers may help a bit, but its prolonged use can be harmful to the tooth and its surroundings as it does not remove the infection, just subsides the painful symptom for a small amount of time. So, the best option is to arrange for an appointment with your dentist and get it treated.