Tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease pose the most common dangers to dental health. But there are some rare conditions that can also place teeth at risk to be on the lookout for during regular dental checkups.
One such condition is root resorption in an adult tooth, in which the root itself or its surface breaks down and is absorbed by the body. Resorption occurs naturally in a primary (“baby”) tooth so it can loosen and give way for an incoming permanent tooth. Resorption still occurs in a limited form with young permanent teeth but should eventually stop.
Sometimes, though, it doesn’t, either from the inside of the tooth out (internal resorption) or more often from the outside in, usually around the neck-like (or “cervical”) portion of the tooth. This more common occurrence, External Cervical Resorption (ECR), can first appear as pink spots on the enamel and then progress into cavity-like areas. If not found and treated promptly, damage can occur quickly and lead to tooth loss.
We don’t fully understand the exact nature and causes for ECR, but we have identified risk factors for its development. Excessive orthodontic force on the teeth or any other trauma can cause damage to the periodontal ligament (which holds teeth in place with the jaw bone). Teeth grinding habits and some dental procedures like internal tooth whitening can also be risk factors.That being said, though, the vast majority of people who experience these issues don’t develop ECR.
Although the causes aren’t fully understood, we can still treat it: the key to success is early detection. You probably won’t notice early signs of ECR, but we can often detect spots from routine x-rays. We can then remove the tissue cells within the lesions causing the damage and restore the area with a tooth-colored filling material. If ECR has extended near the tooth’s interior pulp layer, then a root canal treatment may be needed.
Needless to say, the more extensive ECR occurs in the roots, the less likely the tooth can be saved and may need to be extracted. It’s important, therefore, to maintain regular dental checkups (at least twice a year) to increase your chances of catching a developing problem early.
If you would like more information on root resorption in adult teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Root Resorption: An Unusual Phenomenon.”