What Is External Resorption?

Medically Reviewed by Robert Brennan on September 06, 2023
3 min read

If your teeth are chipped or break easily, you may suffer from a dental condition called external resorption. The good news is that with early detection, your dentist can repair your teeth and prevent future damage.

Resorption is a condition that causes you to lose pieces of your teeth. You may lose the outside of your teeth, called external resorption, or the inside of your teeth, called internal resorption.‌

Resorption may affect your:

  • Enamel
  • Dentin
  • Cementum
  • Pulp‌
  • Root

‌External resorption is more common than internal resorption. Decay usually happens from the outside in. It's a natural process your body uses to degrade your primary teeth in your youth, making room for your permanent teeth. However, when it affects your permanent teeth, it may cause long-term damage.

External resorption. Your dentist may suspect external desorption if you have holes or chips on the surface of your teeth. If external resorption begins to work its way in, X-rays may show that your roots and root tips are flattening.

At first, you may not experience any obvious symptoms. This is why regular dental care is so important. Your dentist may notice the signs earlier than you. Early detection is the key to addressing the health condition and preventing additional damage to your teeth. Common signs of external resorption include:

  • Cavities in a tooth
  • Holes in teeth that aren’t cavities
  • ‌Red, swollen, or inflamed gums
  • Irregular spaces between your teeth
  • Teeth that are unusually dark or pinkish in color
  • Pain that radiates from inside your tooth‌
  • Teeth that chip easily‌

When left untreated, external resorption causes extensive damage to your teeth and gums. Complications include:

  • Crooked teeth
  • Discoloration
  • Teeth with chips or holes
  • Loss of teeth
  • Gum recession
  • Pain
  • Weakness‌
  • Infection

External resorption is easily treated by repairing affected areas of your teeth to prevent further damage. Dental procedures that are used to address external resorption include:

  • Removing the damaged tooth
  • Restoring a damaged tooth with a crown
  • Root canal
  • Dental implants or veneers‌
  • Gum surgery

You can prevent external resorption by:

  • Brushing your teeth twice a day
  • Using dental floss and mouth wash every day
  • Maintaining regular dental checkups
  • Monitoring your teeth for damage or other signs of resorption

Internal resorption. This is more difficult to identify than external resorption because the damage starts on the inside of your tooth. It's most often identified by dentists when dark spots appear on X-rays of your teeth.

Men are more likely to experience internal resorption than women. You’re also more likely to suffer from internal resorption if you’ve had extensive oral surgeries on your mouth.‌

Your dental history is important in diagnosing external resorption. Your dentist can compare previous X-rays and consultation notes to determine your overall dental health. New X-rays show specific damage to your entire mouth, including the inside of your tooth and the roots.

Once your dentist diagnoses external resorption, the next step is determining the extent of the damage. When only the root is affected, a root canal is used to remove any infected tissue and restore the root structure. When only the outside of your tooth is affected, the area may be repaired to prevent further damage.

For severe cases, your dentist may apply a calcium hydroxide paste to remineralize your tooth. If your tooth doesn’t respond to this type of therapy, your dentist may extract the tooth. In this case, you have the option to get an implant or veneer in place of your extracted tooth.

Because the condition doesn’t always have obvious symptoms, you may not even know you have external resorption damage. You may not feel pain, and damage may be out of your sight where you don’t notice it easily.

External resorption is considered a progressive disease, meaning that it worsens over time. The longer you go without treatment, the worse the damage is. While some damage is repairable, other damage isn’t and may lead to loss of your teeth.‌

If the resorption tissue spreads into your bloodstream, damaged cells may travel to and affect other teeth and gum tissues.