Tooth roots are hidden below the gumline and help your tooth stay in place. Gum recession can expose this area, resulting in more pain and sensitivity to hot, cold and sweet foods, also putting you at higher risk for cavities and infections.
Understand how tooth roots become exposed, related concerns and dental procedures to address this issue.
How Does a Tooth Root Become Exposed?
Only half of each tooth can be seen in your mouth. The rest is located below the gumline, sits inside a bone socket and is secured into your jawbone. The typical tooth has one root, although some may have two or three.
No matter the shape, roots contain nerve pulp and dentin, which can get exposed to air and start to feel sensitive if not protected by connective tissue called cementum. Worn-away cementum exposes the tooth root to decay and greater sensitivity. When revealed by receding gums, foods and how you brush can break down the cementum.
A tooth root may become exposed due to one or more of the following factors:
- A sudden sharp injury to the mouth that damages the gum tissue or causes a tooth to move.
- Tooth decay. When left untreated, progression may expose the enamel, go below the gumline or cause part of the bone tissue to break off.
- Gum recession, which occurs when the gums develop pockets that expose the root of each tooth. As this condition progresses, the gums begin to pull downward, showing more of the root. This condition may occur or be aggravated by gum disease, aging, too much pressure as you brush, smoking, poorly fitting restorations or damage to the gum tissue.
- Aging, as gums begin to recede when you grow older. Nearly 25 percent of Americans have visible gum recession.
- Poor alignment, including large spaces, crowding or shifting that exposes the roots.
- Aggressive brushing technique or using a hard-bristled brush can irritate or damage the gum tissue and cause it to recede.
- Individuals who smoke or chew tobacco have a higher risk of gum disease and tooth decay, both of which are associated with receding gums.
- Tooth grinding places pressure on your gums, eroding the enamel and gum tissue.
- A missing or poorly fitting dental restoration can potentially expose part of the root.
If you look inside your mouth, you can tell you have an exposed tooth root if:
- The gumline is not even across all teeth, appearing thin or dipping farther down in some areas
- Your teeth appear brownish near the base
- You can see visible pockets between the end of the tooth and the gumline
- Thinner, discolored enamel near the gumline
- A projection or prong-like protrusion toward the bottom of each tooth
Signs and Symptoms of an Exposed Tooth Root
You can’t always see an exposed tooth root, especially if it’s located at the back of your mouth. However, patients can often feel them through a combination of the following signs:
- Tender, sore or sometimes bleeding gums
- Swelling and pain around the tooth, which can occur due to an exposed nerve or infected pulp
- Sensitivity after you brush or after eating hot, cold, acidic, sweet or sour foods
- The tooth sits at an angle or the top part has broken off
Treatment for an Exposed Tooth Root
A dentist will determine why your gums have receded or how the root became exposed and develop a treatment plan. Common strategies include:
- Fillings: These restorations help cover up decayed areas, while protecting the existing nerves and pulp.
- Root Canal and Crowns: This treatment becomes essential when part of the tooth has broken off. Crowns protect what remains and help restore your bite strength.
- Scaling and Root Planing: If gum pockets have started to form, your dentist may first recommend a scaling and root planing procedure to remove any plaque that has progressed below the gumline.
- Bonding: In less-severe cases, your dentist may recommend bonding over the exposed root. A tooth-colored solution will be cured over the root area to protect what remains. This procedure can’t stop gum recession and is a protective measure.
- Gum Tissue Grafting: During this surgical procedure, tissue from another part of your mouth or gums is grafted onto your gums to protect the roots.
- Gingival Mask: This removable piece of artificial gum sits over your tooth roots to protect them from further damage.
- Pocket Reduction: This procedure involves reducing the size and prominence of the gum tissue to prevent bacteria from getting trapped below the gumline.
- Flap Surgery: This more invasive procedure starts with making a small incision in your gums to scrape away tartar buildup and accumulating bacteria below the gumline.
- Braces: Adults with significant misalignment may need to wear braces for a period of time or have surgery to correct certain alignment issues, like crowded teeth.
- Mouthguards: Ideal for patients who grind their teeth at night, a custom-fitted mouthguard can reduce any erosion the gums and enamel experience during sleep.
Ignoring exposed tooth roots can increase the risk of periodontal disease, losing a tooth and jawbone loss.
Concerned about your tooth and gum health? To schedule an appointment, contact our Shelton office today.