This is when the outside of the root of a tooth either vertically or horizontally begins to be resorbed or “eaten” away by special tooth cells (osteoclasts). There is a breakdown of the mineralised root surface/tissues. It is the same process that occurs when baby teeth are being shed. When it is baby (deciduous) teeth this process is normal; however, it is not considered normal in an adult tooth.
In orthodontics, the resorption is seen at the tip of the roots (as a shortening of the root on radiographs) and is an undesirable complication. It is thankfully very rare and in most cases it does not occur. However, it is very unpredictable and we have no way of forecasting your susceptibility to this condition before treatment. It can occur with or without orthodontic treatment.
Subtle changes in root length are normal during orthodontic treatment. These are nothing to worry about and will cause no long-term ill effects in a healthy mouth.
How root resorption arises
But very rarely and unpredictably there may be more serious changes. If this happens then the future prognosis of the tooth will be questionable. Certain people may have a predisposition to this condition in which case they are more likely to get it. The most likely causes of root resorption are mainly infection of the pulp of the tooth (the centre of the tooth which contains blood and nerve supply) or trauma that sets off a chronic deteriorating situation.
Prevention in Orthodontics
We have come to understand that the incidence of root resorption may increase with unnecessarily extended orthodontic treatment. This is one of the main reasons why it is very important that treatment should be completed on time. For this to occur we need proper cooperation and compliance of all advice given as a precautionary measure.
Depending on your orthodontic circumstances, your orthodontist may take additional radiographs (X-ray films) to check for root resorption periodically during treatment. If you have any concerns please talk to your orthodontist.