Exposed Nerve in Tooth: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Published on: March 5, 2023
Woman suffering from dental pain

Every tooth has nerves that connect the tooth to the nervous system. These nerves can signal when a tooth is exposed to cold, heat or inflammation, causing toothaches and other sensations. Here is what you need to know about an exposed nerve in tooth pain and how to get relief.

When teeth are healthy and the nerves are protected by enamel, dentin and tooth material, they should not cause toothaches or pain. The nerves are located deep inside the teeth roots, surrounded by pulp and live tissue. It is when you have an exposed tooth root that the nerve can be affected.

Teeth have one or more roots – large molars may have up to four roots. These roots are what connect the teeth to the jaw bone. The root of a tooth should be hidden under the gumline, not exposed like the neck and crown of the tooth, which is covered by enamel. Components of a tooth root include:

  • Cementum – this is the outer bone-like material that connects the root to the jawbone – roots do not have enamel like the upper portion of the tooth.
  • Nerves and blood vessels – the nerves and blood vessels enter the tooth at the root tip and travels inside the tooth through canals, providing oxygen and relaying sensation.
  • Canals- these are the spaces inside each root of a tooth.
  • Pulp- tooth pulp is all the live tissue inside the tooth canals and within the inner sanctum of the tooth, including nerves, blood vessels and connective tissue.

The nerves are protected by the hard tooth root and soft pulp tissue. They only send signals when heat or cold reaches the inner tooth or the nerves are irritated by other issues.

Causes of an Exposed Tooth Root

An exposed tooth root or nerve is a symptom of another dental condition. When the tooth is healthy, the roots are well-protected, and the nerves are insulated inside the canals. When you have an exposed nerve in a tooth, something has happened to the outer tooth material. Possible causes include:

  • Tooth injury. Fractured, cracked or broken teeth can result in an exposed tooth root. Trauma to the tooth from biting a hard object or impact to the tooth can cause a tooth injury.
  • Decay. Tooth decay is a common issue that can burrow through enamel and dentin into the soft pulp inside the root canal.
  • Gum disease. Gum infection or disease can cause receding gums that expose the teeth roots, making them susceptible to decay and injury.
  • Poor oral hygiene. If the teeth are not kept clean and free of bacteria, plaque and tartar, they are prone to decay, gum disease and infection. Poor oral hygiene and lack of dental care can lead to exposed teeth roots.
  • Tooth infection. If bacteria are able to get inside the tooth canal, they can multiply and cause a tooth infection or abscess. This inflammation can press on the nerves.

Anything that damages the outside of the tooth can result in exposed nerves inside the tooth. Exposed teeth roots can lead to uncomfortable symptoms that need dental treatment to subside.

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Exposed Nerve in Tooth Symptoms

When your tooth nerves are irritated, they will send signals to your brain. When protected by the outer tooth, your nerves are not sensitive when eat cold, hot or spicy foods. An exposed tooth root can allow these elements to irritate the tooth nerve, resulting in the following symptoms:

  • Sensitivity to cold food, beverages or air
  • Sensitivity to hot food or beverages
  • Pain when biting down
  • Lump or swelling near the tooth
  • Throbbing tooth pain

If you have exposed teeth roots, it can be uncomfortable to eat certain foods. When there is infection or decay inside the tooth, you can experience 24-hour tooth pain and the tooth may be at risk if it does not receive treatment.

Treatment for Exposed Tooth Root

Anyone with symptoms of an exposed nerve in a tooth should seek dental treatment. The tooth may be damaged, diseased or otherwise compromised. Treatment depends on the cause of the exposure, but possible procedures include the following options:

  • Remove tooth decay and add fillings to protect the tooth
  • Gum disease treatment to restore healthier gums
  • Repair damaged, cracked or broken teeth with fillings or dental crowns
  • Root canal therapy to remove infection and the nerve root

When there is infection or damage to the nerve roots inside the tooth, the pulp may need to be removed in a root canal. The good news is that this will stop the pain and sensitivity, and the tooth can survive without the nerves.

 dentist with teeth imaging explaining treatment to a woman patient sitting in a dental chair.

If you have an exposed tooth nerve, it is a sign of dental problems. Contact your local dentist for a diagnosis and treatment to end the discomfort of an exposed nerve inside your tooth.

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