Why Does Tooth Root Exposure Cause Pain & Sensitivity?

15 February 2023
 Categories: Dentist, Blog

If you have a toothache, it's important to visit a dentist because there can be several different causes for this symptom. For instance, a tooth ache could be indicative of a cavity, inflamed tooth pulp, an abscess, etc. It could even be indicative of non-dental issues, like a sinus infection. Some people develop tooth pain due to exposed tooth roots. Read on to learn more about this condition, why it happens, and how to treat it without surgery.

What is an Exposed Tooth Root and What Causes it? 

Your tooth has two main parts: the crown and the root. The crown portion is made up of enamel, which covers a soft layer of dentin tissue and pulp. The root, on the other hand, does not have a hard layer of enamel, and instead has a softer, thinner layer of cementum that covers dentin. If the surrounding gum tissue happens to recede around the crown, then you can develop an exposed tooth root.

Tooth roots can be more sensitive than crown since they don't have the protective enamel coating. And if the cementum on the root thins out, then a patient may experience pain or hypersensitivity to stimuli such as cold air or hot/warm foods.

There are many possible causes of root exposure, such as

  • Gingivitis or gum disease
  • Improper dental care, such as brushing too hard
  • Bruxism (teeth grinding)
  • Misaligned teeth
  • Smoking and tobacco usage

Besides causing discomfort and sensitivity, people with exposed roots may notice other symptoms, such as swollen gum tissue and a longer appearance of the clinical crown.

How Can You Treat the Issue?

You can treat root exposure with gum grafts, dentin sealer, and/or bonding.

Gum Grafting

During a gum graft procedure, your dentist will take gum tissue from another area—like the soft palate or from a donor—and place it over exposed roots. The grafts are kept in place with dissolvable sutures or with a cyanoacrylate cement. Gum grafting is the ideal procedure for people with severe gum recession. However, some people may not want to undergo surgery, so other procedures can be suitable for more mild root exposure.

Dentin Sealer

If the layer of cementum has thinned out on the root, then underlying dentin may be exposed, thus causing toothaches. Dentin contains tubules, or small microscopic channels that lead to the pulp, or the living portion of the tooth. Your dentist can place a sealer into these tubules to block up these tubules and prevent bacteria from reaching the pulp.


Dental bonding, or composite resin, is often used to correct aesthetic issues, like a chipped tooth, but it can also be used to protect dentin. Your dentist can place bonding material directly on the root and harden it with a curing light. While bonding and sealer can protect the tooth root, they don't correct gum loss, so you may need to eventually get a gum graft down the road if recession continues.

If you are dealing with sensitive or aching teeth due to root exposure, reach out to a dentist in your area today for help.