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Resorption is the term for a common type of dental injury or irritation that causes a loss of a part or parts of a tooth. Resorption can affect many parts of a tooth, including:

  • interior pulp
  • cementum, which covers the root
  • dentin, which is the second-hardest tissue underneath enamel
  • root

The condition often starts on the outside of a tooth and moves inwards.

In addition to a loss of part or parts of a tooth, you may notice swelling in your gums, as well as pink or dark spots on your teeth. However, the symptoms of resorption aren’t always easy to notice.

Tooth resorption can lead to infections, crooked teeth, tooth loss, and other dental problems that can cause lasting damage to your teeth, gums, and jaw. If you suspect you’re experiencing this issue, it’s important to see your dentist.

Tooth resorption is classified internally and externally, depending on where the loss of tooth occurs. External resorption is often easier to see than internal resorption because it commonly occurs on the outer surface of a tooth.

Internal

Internal resorption affects the inside of a tooth. It’s much less common than external resorption and most often affects men. It’s also more common in people who have teeth that have received extensive oral surgery, such as tooth transplantation.

Many people are unaware they have internal resorption because it affects only the tissues inside of a tooth. Instead, a dentist or dental hygienist most often detect internal resorption on X-rays taken during a routine dental exam.

On an X-ray, a tooth with internal resorption will show dark spots where internal tissue is missing.

External

External resorption is much more common than internal resorption. It can affect any part of the outside of the tooth, from the roots to the cementum on the outside.

On the outside of teeth, external resorption may look like deep holes or chips. Resorption affecting the roots of a tooth can be seen in X-rays as a shortening of the lengths of the roots and a flattening of the root tips.

Resorption can cause long-term damage to permanent teeth. But in primary teeth, or baby teeth, resorption is a normal part of the dental development process. As a child grows, the roots of their baby teeth undergo resorption to make way for permanent teeth.

Resorption of baby teeth is different than bottle rot, a condition that can occur when a child’s teeth become coated in sugar from sweetened liquids. Most often this happens when parents leave their babies with a bottle of formula or milk overnight.

Several things can cause a tooth to begin to be resorbed. External resorption is often caused by injuries to the mouth and teeth that cause swelling and loss of bone and tissue on and around a tooth.

Such injuries may occur from prolonged use of orthodontic appliances such as braces, or from tooth grinding or tooth bleaching.

Most often internal resorption is caused by a physical injury to a tooth or swelling of the inside of a tooth caused by an untreated cavity. However, the exact causes of tooth resorption aren’t well understood.

Tooth resorption can cause a number of complications, including:

  • infections
  • crooked teeth
  • tooth weakness and discoloration
  • chipped teeth
  • cavity-like holes
  • loss of teeth
  • recession of roots
  • pain

If you don’t like the appearance of your teeth, you may want to visit a cosmetic dentist after seeking treatment for resorption.

Tooth resorption doesn’t always present a clear set of symptoms. In many cases, a person may not notice tooth resorption for years. However, as resorption worsens, symptoms often develop.

symptoms of resorption
  • pain stemming from the root, crown, or inside of a tooth
  • dark or pinkish discoloration
  • swelling and redness of the gums
  • unusual spacing between the teeth
  • teeth that are brittle and chip easily
  • cavity-like holes in the teeth

How resorption is diagnosed depends on which part of a tooth is affected.

With internal resorption, a dentist or dental hygienist may notice dark spots inside your teeth that are visible in X-rays of your mouth. If this happens, they’ll ask you about your dental history to check on past injuries or oral procedures that may have affected the tooth.

You can expect your dental professional to perform a physical exam of the tooth. This may involve touching it with heat and cold and taking X-rays to better understand the extent of the resorption and any other damage it may have caused.

External absorption is usually more visible, so it’s easier to diagnose. The diagnosis process is very similar to checking for an internal absorption.

The type of treatment recommended for a case of dental resorption depends on what part of a tooth is affected and the extent of the damage.

Treatment for dental resorption is focused on preserving any remaining parts of a tooth that have begun to experience loss. This usually involves removing damaged parts of the teeth to prevent further resorption.

treatment for resorption

Resorption often affects the appearance of teeth. Some people use implants or veneers to replace any teeth that are removed to give their smile a more natural look.

It may be normal for children’s teeth to undergo resorption, but in adults this issue is usually a sign of tooth injury that can cause long-lasting damage and even loss of teeth.

You may not notice symptoms of dental resorption until the process has advanced to a more serious stage, causing a tooth to begin decaying from the outside in. Complications from resorption are common, and can cause permanent loss of teeth if not treated promptly.

Pay close attention to any changes in the spacing between your teeth, as well as unusual pain and appearance of your teeth and gums, as these may be early signs.

Dental resorption is best prevented by regular visits to your dentist for cleaning and examinations. They’re likely to catch the earliest signs of this condition and can prevent it from worsening with proper treatment.