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Cover Those Cracked Tooth and Share a Radiant Smile

You’re crunching ice or a piece of hard candy when you notice something hard in your mouth that doesn’t melt or dissolve. You get a sick feeling as you realize what it is a piece of broken tooth.


 

Teeth are remarkably strong, but they can chip, crack (fracture) or break. This can happen in several ways:

  • Biting down on something hard
  • Being hit in the face or mouth
  • Falling
  • Having cavities that weaken the tooth

When a tooth chips or breaks, it may not hurt. However, your tongue usually feels the sharp area quite quickly. Minor tooth fractures usually don’t cause pain, but if a large piece of the tooth breaks off, it can hurt. That’s because the nerve inside the tooth may be damaged. If it is exposed to air, or hot or cold foods or drinks, it can be extremely uncomfortable.

Pain from a broken or cracked tooth may be constant or may come and go. Many people feel pain when they chew because chewing puts pressure on the tooth.

Although the enamel that covers your teeth is the hardest, most mineralized tissue in the body, its strength has limits. Falling, receiving a blow to the face, or biting down on something hard particularly if a tooth already has some decay can cause a tooth to chip or break. If you discover you have broken or chipped a tooth, don’t panic. There are many things your dentist can do to fix it.

 

If your tooth is broken, chipped, or fractured, see your dentist as soon as possible. Otherwise your tooth could be damaged further or become infected, possibly causing you to end up losing the tooth.

 

In the meantime, try the following self-care measures:

  1. If the tooth is painful, take acetaminophen or another over-the-counter pain reliever. Rinse your mouth with salt water.
  2. If the break has caused a sharp or jagged edge, cover it with a piece of wax paraffin or sugarless chewing gum to keep it from cutting your tongue or the inside of your lip or cheek.
  3. If you must eat, eat soft foods and avoid biting down on the broken tooth. 

Treatment for a broken or chipped tooth will depend on how severely it is damaged. If only a small piece of enamel broke off, the repair can usually be done simply in one office visit. A badly damaged or broken tooth may require a more lengthy and costly procedure. Here are some ways your dentist may repair your broken or chipped tooth.

 

What Your Dentist Will Do

Fractured Teeth

There are several types of tooth fractures and breaks, each of which requires different treatments. These include:

    1. Minor cracks — Also called “craze lines,” these are surface cracks that affect only the outer white surface of the tooth, called the enamel. Minor cracks rarely need treatment. However, your dentist may lightly polish the area to smooth out any rough spots.
    2. Cracked tooth — This type of fracture involves the whole tooth, from the chewing surface all the way down to the nerve. The pieces remain in place, but the crack gradually spreads. Cracks can sometimes be repaired with filling material. The tooth often will need a crown to prevent the crack from getting worse. If the pulp (nerve and other live tissues) is damaged, you may need a root canal as well.
    3. Chips — Minor chips don’t always need treatment. Your dentist may suggest repairing the damage with filling material to prevent it from getting worse or to make the tooth look and feel better. If the chip is very small, the dentist may polish and smooth out the chipped area.
    4. Broken cusp — These breaks affect the pointed chewing surfaces (the cusps) of the teeth. They usually do not affect the pulp and are unlikely to cause much pain. Your dentist may repair the damage to restore the tooth’s shape. Frequently, however, an onlay or crown will be required.
    5. Serious breaks — These breaks go deep enough to expose the nerve. They almost always cause the tooth to hurt and be sensitive. Usually, the broken part of the tooth will bleed. You will need root canal treatment to remove the exposed nerve and probably a crown to restore the tooth to normal function so you can eat and chew properly.
    6. Split tooth — This means that the tooth has split vertically into two separate parts. Some teeth, such as your back teeth (molars), have more than one root. It may be possible to keep one of the roots, which will then be covered with a crown. First, you will need root canal treatment. Second, the dentist will remove any roots that cannot be kept. Third, you will need a crown to cover the root and replace the tooth. In some cases, when a root cannot be saved, the tooth will have to be removed.
    7. Vertical breaks or split root — These cracks start in the root of the tooth and extend upward toward the chewing surface. These breaks are often painful because the area around the root may be inflamed or infected. In most cases, the tooth will have to be removed.
    8. Decay-induced break — In this case, the tooth has broken or crumbled because a cavity weakened it from the inside out. Your dentist will evaluate the cavity and recommend the best way to restore the tooth. In some cases, if the decay is extensive and goes down to the bone,the tooth may have to be removed.

The treatment you receive for your cracked tooth is important because it will relieve pain and reduce the likelihood that the crack will worsen. Once treated, most cracked teeth continue to function and provide years of comfortable chewing. Talk to your endodontist about your particular diagnosis and treatment recommendations. Your dentist will advise you on how to keep your natural teeth and achieve optimum dental health.

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