What Can You Do to Save Your Cracked or Chipped Tooth?
A fractured and broken tooth might not seem like such a big problem, especially if it looks small, but it can cause huge problems if left untreated.
Photography by Pete
Have you ever bitten down on something hard or been hit in the face while playing sports and suddenly heard a loud crack? You look in the mirror, and suddenly there’s a large crack running through your tooth, or even a piece of it missing entirely! If this has ever happened to you, you’re not alone. Cracked and chipped teeth are fairly common problems in the dental world, and they have a range of possible causes.
Some causes include:
- Grinding your teeth, particularly at night
- Cavities and tooth decay that may weaken the integrity of the tooth
- Eating hard foods like an ice cube, peanuts, and hard candy
- Sudden impact or trauma to the mouth (car accidents, playing contact sports, falling on a hard surface, etc.)
As you get older, you may find that your teeth may become even more vulnerable to cracking and chipping. Your smile will naturally begin to weaken as a lifetime of eating, chewing, and normal wear and tear begin to make their mark. You should be especially careful with the foods you eat. Hard and crunchy foods do plenty of harm on their own, and sweets weaken your teeth by causing cavities.
Signs of a Cracked or Chipped Tooth
Beyond any visible cracks or missing enamel you might see, several other symptoms may be present, depending on the severity of the damage. Chipped and cracked tooth symptoms include:
- Tooth pain that comes and goes but is rarely continuous
- Pain when chewing or biting
- Sensitivity to temperatures and sweetness
- Swelling gums around the damaged tooth
However, sometimes there may be no symptoms beyond the initial crack or chip. We still highly recommend that you come into the office to have your tooth looked at to ensure you don’t run the risk of developing an infection or cavity. If left untreated, the infection can spread from the initial tooth to its neighbors, your jawbone, bloodstream, and rest of the body. In these cases, there may be additional symptoms such as:
- Persistent pain, not just when eating
- Bad breath or taste in the mouth
- Discolored spots around the infected area
- Tooth abscess or pus around the teeth and gums
Is a chipped tooth a dental emergency?
Not all chipped teeth are dental emergencies, but they certainly can be. Some may leave jagged, sharp fragments that can rip and tear at your lips and gums, and others may reach down to damage the nerves at the center of your tooth. In many cases, a chipped tooth leaves a tooth vulnerable to infection, and painful cavities may begin wearing away at what’s left of your tooth. In these cases, you should seek immediate dental care.
Can a cracked tooth heal on its own?
With the most minimal cracks, it is possible for your tooth to eventually heal itself through remineralization. This is the same process that can repair a tooth in the earliest stage of tooth decay. However, for more major cracks or breaks, your dentist will need to repair the damage. Even with those minor cracks, we recommend that you see us for an exam to ensure there’s no underlying damage or infection.
How bad is a cracked tooth?
With cracked tooth syndrome, a tooth has partially fractured but hasn’t fully broken away from the rest of the tooth. In some cases, the crack might not be serious and may only need cosmetic restoration. However, some cracks can cause enough damage that the tooth can’t be saved and has to be removed. No matter how bad it looks, you should always see a dentist for an examination to determine the full extent of the damage.
What happens if you don't fix a chipped tooth?
No matter how bad the chip looks, you should always have your injured tooth looked at by your dentist. They will diagnose the scope of the damage and detect any potential dangers to your oral health. Even with teeth that aren’t in any pain or have any worrying signs, leaving your chip untreated can be disastrous. The chip can leave the tooth exposed and susceptible to bacteria, infection, and decay, leading to even more intensive treatment being needed, up to and including extraction.
What can be done for a cracked tooth?
Anything more than small, enamel-only cracks need immediate repair, even if there’s no pain or discomfort. For minor chips that only cosmetically affect your tooth, you won’t have to have a major repair. The dentist might fill in the tooth’s crack with a dental filling, or with dental bonding if it’s a cracked front tooth. More significantly major cracks, especially those causing severe cracked tooth pain, can demand much more extensive dental work, including crowns, root canals, and dental extraction.
You may be tempted after cracking or chipping your tooth to Google “how to fix a chipped tooth” or “cracked tooth remedies at home,” but we recommend that you don’t try to fix it yourself. You can’t tell how extensive the damage is just by looking at it, and what might seem like a small crack may actually run deep to the root of your tooth. Plus, superglue can only do so much.
When you come in for a consultation, your dentist will comprehensively examine your injured tooth and determine the best chipped or cracked tooth repair options for you. Which one is right for your specific needs depends on the size of the crack or chip, its location, the signs and symptoms involved, and whether it reaches below the gum line.
The most common treatments we recommend are:
Dental bonding uses a tooth-colored composite resin to cosmetically restore the appearance of your teeth. Our dentists can apply as much or as little composite as needed to repair your smile’s natural look. Bonding fills in your cracked front tooth or can completely rebuild a chipped piece of missing enamel.
Like bonding, porcelain veneers are used by dentists to repair a chipped front tooth cosmetically. This process involves lightly shaving down your tooth to fit a thin porcelain shell over it, re-envisioning your tooth’s total look. This shaving can smooth away any sharp edges that could cut your lips and gums. The veneer itself is strong and durable, protecting the tooth below from further damage or infection.
For significant cracks and breaks, a dental crown may be needed to fit over the tooth and restore both its looks and strength. Crowns are also a great choice if there is a significant amount of decay that has left the tooth weak. Porcelain or ceramic crowns are the most popular since they can return your smile to normal, exactly matching your natural tooth.
When you experience chipped, cracked, or broken tooth pain, this is often because the crack or chip extends deep into your tooth’s dental pulp. The pulp is the lifeblood of your tooth, containing the blood vessels and nerves keeping it alive. If the pulp is damaged, your dentist will most likely perform a root canal to remove damaged tissue and regain your tooth’s lost integrity. This procedure can also remove dental pulp that might have become infected if a crack or chip is left untreated for too long.
Sometimes a fracture or break can leave your tooth’s structure, nerves, or roots so injured that the tooth dies. At this point, it can’t be saved by a root canal or crown, and your dentist will have to remove the tooth entirely.
Many patients who have hairline cracks or small chips in their tooth’s enamel may not seek any treatment without any pain or significant visible damage. While cracked or chipped tooth repair may not be necessary in some of these cases, we highly recommend that you at least come into our office for a consultation to ensure your tooth is healthy. We want to make sure that your natural tooth is always in the best condition possible and can last you a lifetime.
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