Family Dentistry of Ocean City
Robert W. Yaskin, D.M.D. LLC
421 15th Street
Ocean City, NJ 08226
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Baby (primary) teeth look and function much like their permanent counterparts. Besides having a visible crown, they also have roots that maintain contact with the jawbone.
But there are some differences, the biggest one being the normal process whereby primary tooth roots dissolve or, in dental terms, resorb. Root resorption eventually leads to the tooth coming loose to make way for the permanent tooth.
Adult tooth roots can also resorb — but it's decidedly not normal. If adult root resorption isn't promptly treated, it could also lead to tooth loss — but there won't be an incoming tooth to take its place.
Although it can begin inside a tooth, adult root resorption usually begins on the outside. One type, external cervical resorption (ECR), begins around the neck-like area of the tooth not far below the gum line. Its initial signs are small pink spots where the tooth enamel has eroded; those pink cells within the space are doing the damage.
We don't fully understand the mechanism behind ECR, but there are some factors that often contribute. People with periodontal ligament damage or trauma, sometimes due to too much force applied during orthodontic treatment, have a high risk of ECR. Some bleaching techniques for staining inside a tooth may also be a factor.
The key to treating ECR is to detect it as early as possible before it does too much root damage. Regular checkups with x-rays play a pivotal role in early detection. Advanced stages of ECR might require more advanced diagnostics like a cone beam computed tomography (CBCT) scan to fully assess the damage.
If the lesion is small, we can surgically remove the cells causing the damage and fill the site with a tooth-colored filling. If ECR has spread toward the pulp, the tooth's inner nerve center, we may also need to perform a root canal treatment.
Either of these methods intends to save the tooth, but there is a point where the damage is too great and it's best to remove the tooth and replace it with a life-like dental implant or other restoration. That's why it requires vigilance through regular, semi-annual dental visits to detect the early signs of root resorption before it's too late.
If you would like more information on adult tooth root resorption, 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.”
As a new permanent tooth develops, the roots undergo a process of breakdown and growth. As older cells dissolve (a process called resorption), they’re replaced by newer cells laid down (deposition) as the jaw develops. Once the jaw development ends in early adulthood, root resorption normally stops. It’s a concern, then, if it continues.
Abnormal root resorption most often begins outside of the tooth and works its way in, beginning usually around the neck-like (or cervical) region of the tooth. Also known as external cervical resorption (ECR), the condition usually shows first as pink spots where the enamel is being undermined. As these spots continue to erode, they develop into cavity-like areas.
While its causes haven’t been fully confirmed, ECR has been linked to excessive pressure on teeth during orthodontic treatment, periodontal ligament trauma, teeth-grinding or other excessive force habits, and bleaching techniques performed inside a tooth. Fortunately, ECR is a rare occurrence, and most people who’ve had these problems won’t experience it.
When it does occur, though, it must be treated as quickly as possible because the damage can progress swiftly. Treatment depends on the size and location of the resorption: a small site can often be treated by surgically accessing the tooth through the gum tissue and removing the offending tissue cells. This is often followed with tooth-colored dental material that’s bonded to the tooth to replace lost structure.
A root canal treatment may be necessary if the damage has extended to the pulp, the tooth’s interior. However, there’s a point where the resorption becomes too extensive to save the tooth. In these cases, it may be necessary to remove the tooth and replace it with a dental implant or similar tooth restoration.
In its early stages, ECR may be difficult to detect, and even in cases where it’s been diagnosed more advanced diagnostics like a CBCT scanner may be needed to gauge the extent of damage. In any case, it’s important that you have your teeth examined on a regular basis, at least twice a year. In the rare chance you’ve developed ECR, the quicker it’s found and treatment begun, the better your chances of preserving the tooth.