If one of your teeth suddenly goes numb, you should schedule a dental appointment as soon as possible. Like any other part of your body, such as your fingers, toes or nose, your teeth are filled with nerves. This means that once they experience trauma of some kind, they may become numb as a result. For example, if you trap your finger in a door and damage the nerves inside it, one of the first things to happen is that your finger becomes numb.
However, unlike a finger or a toe, your teeth, which are essentially living things, may not always recover from trauma.
Your Tooth Contains Nerves and Blood Cells
Although many people aren't aware of this, teeth contain nerves and blood vessels. These blood vessels are responsible for transporting nutrients to the tooth in order to keep it strong and healthy. The nerve within the tooth allows you to detect temperature fluctuations and pressure.
If a tooth is injured in a collision or because you bit down on something hard like ice, the blood vessels within the tooth may not be able to supply the nerve with the nutrients it needs.
Starved of blood, the nerve may then begin to die. Sometimes, numbness may occur, but more often than not the main symptoms are pain and sensitivity.
Dental Trauma Is Not Always Obvious
You may not have injured your tooth while conscious. If you grind your teeth at night (nocturnal grinding), the constant pressure, which is often much more than that applied when you eat, may have caused the damage.
Deep cavities that have penetrated to the nerve chamber can also cause a tooth to go numb.
Your Tooth Could Become Non-Vital
Once the nerve begins to die, there is nothing that can be done to save it. However, if you get to a dentist quickly, they may be able to repair the tooth before the nerve begins to die. To determine whether the nerve can be saved, the dentist will perform a cold test. The dentist will test the response of your tooth to something cold.
If you experience pain for less than 30 seconds, this usually means the nerve can be saved.
You May Need a Root Canal and Crown
During the cold test, if you continue to feel pain in the tooth for more than 30 seconds, you may have irreversible pulpitis. This basically means the nerve cannot be saved. In this case, the nerve needs to be removed before it becomes infected. An infected nerve will lead to a painful abscess. If your dentist cannot perform this procedure themselves, they will refer you to an endodontist who will perform a root canal to remove the dead nerve. Finally, the endodontist will fill the nerve chamber with composite resin and cover the tooth with a crown.
Teeth can survive without the nerve as long as they are fully formed and mature. However, remember that the nerve helps you to gauge how much pressure is required when chewing your food. Therefore, if your tooth becomes numb, you should seek dental treatment immediately.