Is my tooth rotting? (Understanding tooth decay)

Dr Aran Moorthy

This article was written by Australian dental surgeon Dr Aran Moorthy, BDS. Dr Moorthy has a Bachelor of Dental Surgery from the University of Adelaide. You can read more about Dr Moorthy here >

man with tooth decay and pain

If you’ve noticed changes in your tooth or teeth, you may have developed tooth decay. If this decay has advanced over some time, the tooth may eventually rot and die.

Rest assured, teeth don’t decay and fall out overnight, but here’s what you must look out for.

First up, if you take good care of your teeth by brushing and flossing, avoiding sugar and visiting the dentist regularly for check-ups, you’ll probably never have to worry about any teeth falling out. That is unless you have an accident. However, if you’ve been a bit lax with your oral health or are predisposed to dental disease, you may want to look out for tell-tale signs.

While teeth don’t fall out overnight, tooth decay is extremely common. And preventable. The tricky thing is that dental decay is often hard to see, as it often forms in between the teeth.

Tell-tale signs of tooth decay include different colours on the teeth, bad breath, pain or toothache and a sensitivity to sweet, hot or cold foods and drinks.

How do teeth fall out?

Teeth fall out if they have decayed badly enough to destroy the tooth root. Decay starts when plaque, a sticky layer of bacteria, forms on your teeth. This bacteria lives in your saliva and feeds on sugars, which then turn into acids, which form a hole in your tooth. This is why it’s so important to rinse or brush away any sugars you’ve eaten.

If the decay is in a visible spot, you’ll notice a white mark, usually near your gum line. If it progresses, it forms a cavity. As the cavity deepens, it affects the pulp, which contains the nerves and blood vessels. The decay compromises the blood supply, and without blood flow, there is no oxygen or nutrients. This can lead to infection and cause the tooth’s nerve to die.

Can a dead tooth stay in my mouth?

A dead tooth can remain in your mouth for weeks or possibly months. The problem is, though, that the tooth is susceptible to infection. It can also cause considerable pain and discomfort, bad breath, and look unsightly. Contact your dentist immediately if you suspect you have a dead or dying tooth.

Treatments for tooth decay

If you get to the dentist early to discuss your concerns, there may be options available to help you.

Tooth filling: Your dentist or hygienist might remedy the problem with a small dental filling. Read more about fillings here.

Root canal treatment: If your tooth decay has advanced and an infection has formed, the dentist may recommend root canal treatment. This is where the dentist removes any affected pulp or nerves inside the tooth, cleans the area, and then fills and seals the cavity. They may place a dental crown over the remains of the tooth to keep it secure and free from infection. You can read more about root canal treatment here.

Removing your rotten tooth (when all else fails)

If your infection has progressed and destroyed your tooth, your dentist may need to extract it. Tooth extraction is always considered a last resort, but sometimes it needs to happen. A dental extraction (removing your tooth) involves thoroughly anaesthetising the area, making a small incision in the gums, and carefully extracting the dead tooth.

You can read more about tooth extraction here.

Get in touch

If you’re concerned about one or more of your teeth, talk to our dental professionals today.

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