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A tooth's root is the portion of the tooth that anchors it in the jawbone. The root is covered by enamel and cementum, which are hard, protective tissues. It also contains the dental pulp, a soft tissue that provides nutrients and nerves to the tooth.
If the gum tissue around a tooth recedes, the root will become exposed. This can happen naturally with aging, gum disease, trauma, or smoking. When the root is exposed, it's prone to sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures, pain, and decay.1
See a dentist if you have an exposed tooth root, as it can lead to dental problems. Treatment options include dental restorations and soft tissue grafting.
If you have any signs or symptoms of an exposed tooth root, visit the dentist. Early warning signs include red, swollen, and bleeding gums or sensitive teeth.
Your dentist can take x-rays and perform a periodontal examination to check for gum disease and other oral health problems. If they find an issue, they will recommend treatment.
An exposed tooth root can indicate a serious dental issue requiring prompt attention to prevent negative consequences.
You may have no symptoms if gum recession is mild. However, as it progresses, you can experience:1
Yes, in some cases. People may develop exposed tooth roots as the gums recede in the normal aging process.
However, exposed tooth roots can also be caused by smoking, plaque buildup, and poor dental hygiene or habits.2
Without treatment, you may have tooth sensitivity. In addition, gum recession may cause cosmetic concerns since it makes the affected tooth look longer and yellower. It may also signify gum disease (periodontal disease), which can cause tooth loss.
Healthy gums should look smooth and even across the teeth, with no notable differences in shape or thickness.
Exposed tooth roots make the gums look uneven as they pull away from the teeth. You may see the yellow root beneath the gum line, and the tooth may look longer than others.
Exposed tooth roots have various causes:3
Gum disease often happens because of poor dental hygiene, which causes plaque to build up on the teeth. Plaque is a sticky, bacterial film that forms continuously. If it's not removed, it can cause infections.
In severe gum disease (gingivitis), the gums become inflamed and cover a larger extent of the tooth. Treatments that reduce the inflammation may expose the tooth roots and make them more susceptible to decay.
Receding gums are a common sign of gum disease but can also happen due to aging, anatomical variations, or habits such as aggressive toothbrushing or smoking. As gums recede, they expose more of the tooth root.
Research shows that using a hard- or medium-bristled toothbrush can cause receding gums. Brushing your teeth with a heavy hand is another risk factor.4
You may inadvertently clench or grind your teeth (bruxism) while sleeping or during stressful times. This can cause defects in the teeth, referred to as abfractions, which go hand in hand with gum recession.
Trauma to the mouth (such as getting punched or hit in the face with a ball) can damage the teeth and gums. Dental devices like braces or oral piercings can also rub against the gums, causing trauma and gum recession.
Pressure from misaligned teeth may make them more susceptible to gum recession.
See a dentist for treatment if you have an exposed tooth root. They may recommend one or more of the following:3
Exposed tooth nerves typically need dental treatment. It's unlikely that an exposed tooth nerve can heal itself or that at-home treatments will be effective.
If you have an exposed tooth nerve, see a dentist as soon as possible. If the cause is left untreated, the problem can worsen over time.
You can take steps to prevent tooth root exposure, including:
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