Can You Whiten A Dead Tooth or Dark Tooth?

Can You Whiten A Dead Tooth or Dark Tooth?

 Whitney DiFoggio BS, RDH
Written by Whitney DiFoggio BS, RDH
Medical Reviewed on Oct 18, 2023
byDr. Matthew Hannan DDS
🔬 Evidence Based
Can You Whiten A Dead Tooth or Dark Tooth?

Trying to figure out how to whiten a single tooth? If you have one tooth that stands out from the rest, you might be thinking, “Hey, that’s no problem, I’ll just bleach my teeth!” But how do you deal with whitening a dead tooth or bleaching one that is way more discolored than the rest?

Whitening A Single Tooth

Normally whenever you’re using normal teeth whitening treatments, you’re wearing strips or trays that bleach all of them equally at the same time. This can pose a problem when you only need to whiten a single tooth because the dark tooth won’t keep up with the ones around it.

You could always use whitening trays and only put gel in the area where you need to whiten a dark tooth, but that’s a bit overkill. Fortunately, this issue isn’t as uncommon as you might expect, and there are effective ways to manage or whiten dead teeth.

Why Is Only One Tooth Dark?

It’s really common to have a single dark, discolored tooth whenever a tooth has been traumatized, and the nerve is starting to die. The trauma doesn’t have to be recent. It might be that you had a basketball injury or car accident years ago—even over a decade—and the tooth is only just now starting to slowly die. Dying teeth tend to take on an internal hue that’s different from neighboring teeth, as opposed to surface stains you polish off during cleanings.

Most dying dental nerves cause the tooth to turn brown, blue, or grey.

Tooth misalignment can make certain teeth look dark because of how they trap stain buildup between areas of crowding and misalignment.

Isolated discoloration can also be caused by traumatic injuries, mineralization during tooth development, medications taken during pregnancy or early childhood, or a cavity that stopped and reversed itself before a physical hole formed in the tooth. The area might be dark or even have white spots, depending on the root cause (no pun intended.)

Normally the fact that only one tooth is dark has to do with either tooth development or something wrong with the nerve.

Causes of Tooth Discoloration 

If your tooth is starting to look dark all of a sudden, you’ll want to rule out the following scenarios:

1. Dead Tooth/Nerve

Teeth usually die because of some type of a traumatic injury—like an old sports accident from years ago or a slip in the bathtub—because of nerve damage when the tooth got hit in the first place. When the nerve starts to die, it turns colors inside of the tooth, and then the surrounding enamel starts to discolor along with it. That’s why only one tooth looks dark and is so noticeable when it’s next to a healthy tooth.


You only have limited options when a tooth is non-vital (dead.) It can either be treated with a root canal, extracted, or possibly internally bleached along with the root canal treatment. If internal bleaching isn’t enough, your dentist will need to put a crown over the entire surface after the root canal is complete.

2. Dental Implant Placement

If you’ve recently gotten a dental implant, there will be some grey tint to the actual implant material. If you have extremely thin gum tissues, you could hypothetically see the implant through the gums. Or, if you have a temporary crown over the implant while you’re waiting on the permanent porcelain one, you might notice some dark areas along the gumline.


Don’t worry about bleaching implants or implant crowns, as they won’t respond to a whitening agent anyway. If you haven’t gotten an implant yet and have some concerns, you can talk to your dentist about getting a ceramic implant instead. Remember that your implant crown should be matched using a shade guide so that it blends in with your adjacent teeth.

3. Old Dental Veneers

Old dental veneers can gradually start to stain or chip away, especially if you’re prone to clenching and grinding your teeth a lot. Unlike implants, veneers aren’t a permanent treatment. They can slowly start to develop tiny chips or cracks in them where stain particles accumulate once it’s getting close to time to replace them.


It’s important to have all of your veneers placed at the same time—instead of one now and another later—because it can be difficult to match porcelain materials 100% when they aren’t crafted in the same session. If your veneers are starting to wear out, it’s time to have them replaced. Wearing a nightguard to sleep in will help prevent any premature wear so that your new veneers last as long as possible.

4. Dental Bonding

Dental bonding is notorious for staining over time. This tooth-colored composite material is normally used to cover smaller areas like single teeth with stains, pitted enamel, or chipped teeth. But it’s not as durable as porcelain crowns or veneers, so it usually has to be changed out once it starts to discolor or chip.


Every area of bonding will need to be updated at some point. If you need to whiten a single tooth, ask your dentist if the dark spot is an old filling or bonding that can be changed out.

Is It Possible to Whiten a Dead Tooth?

Yes, there are ways to whiten dark tooth enamel. But it might not be what you’re used to.

1. Internal tooth whitening.

One option is to have your dentist internally bleach a dead tooth. This is where they open up the nerve canal and put a bleaching agent inside of the tooth instead of on the outside. It might not always offer precise results, but it is helpful.

2. Cover the tooth.

If there is no tooth decay, you can always physically cover the front of the discolored tooth with a porcelain or composite material, like veneers, bonding, or a crown. The type of restoration will depend on the size and extent of staining or other issues. For instance, a veneer would probably be just fine, but if the tooth also has cracks or recent root canal treatment, a crown will be more appropriate.

3. Professional teeth whitening.

You also have the option of having your dentist apply an in-office whitening treatment—which is the strongest of all types of teeth bleaching—to see if they can whiten a dark tooth with professional external bleaching gel. You’ll know that same day whether or not it’s going to work.

4.  At-home topical teeth whitening treatments.

Sometimes problem spots (like in areas where there’s crowding) can cause isolated staining in one or two areas of your mouth. Whitening a single tooth, in this case, might call for something like a whitening pen. The tip of the pen allows you to brush on the gel in specific locations, like when you need to whiten a single tooth. Pen types of whitening options usually require a consistent application routine every single day since they only provide limited contact time.

Talk To Your Dentist 

If you need professional whitening for a dead tooth or how to whiten a single tooth, the best and fastest results are going to come from talking to your dentist. This is definitely not a DIY job you want to take on by yourself, especially since single dark teeth are usually discolored for specific issues.

Your dental team will work with you one-on-one to determine if it’s better to internally teeth whitening treatment, apply a topical whitening gel, use an infiltration technique, or just cover it up altogether for more consistent coloration.

Chances are you’ll save yourself a lot of time, headache, and money if you just see your dentist about this kind of an issue first!

 Whitney DiFoggio BS, RDH
Written by Whitney DiFoggio BS, RDH"Teeth Talk Girl," is a registered dental hygienist. She started her dental health journey on YouTube, educating the public through videos.
Dr. Matthew  Hannan DDS
Medical Reviewed byDr. Matthew Hannan DDSDr. Matthew Hannan is a board-certified dentist and graduate of UT Health San Antonio School of Dentistry.
Last updated onOctober 18, 2023Here is our process

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