Teeth are frequently in harm’s way; by one estimate, a quarter of all 12-year-olds have injured their permanent teeth. Of course, the fact that dental injuries are common is no comfort when they happen to you—or your child. Fortunately, modern dental treatment can make your smile look great again—especially if you get prompt and appropriate care. That’s why it is important to know what to do when you break a tooth.
If a tooth has been damaged by a traumatic blow to the head, it’s a good idea to get checked out at an emergency room or urgent care center—particularly if there’s any dizziness, disorientation or loss of consciousness. If the injury is confined to the tooth or teeth, you may be able to wait until the next day (or longer for a tiny chip) to see a dentist.
Types of Broken or Cracked Teeth
Also called minor cracks, these are cracks that affect the enamel, which is the outer white surface of the tooth. Often times, they are shallow and cause no pain. And dentist may need only to polish the area to smooth out the rough spots.
Minor chips will don’t usually require treatment either. They don’t cause pain, so chips are not a cause for concern other than they way that they look.
The fracture affects the whole tooth, from the enamel to the nerve. Early diagnosis and treatment is crucial for saving the tooth. Without treatment, the crack gradually spreads and worsens beyond repair.
This type of break almost always causes tooth sensitivity and aches because it’s deep enough to expose the nerve. Often times, The broken part of the tooth will bleed.
This type of break occurs when the tooth has split vertically into separate parts. This is often the result of a long-term cracked tooth.
This occurs when the cusped, pointed chewing surfaces of teeth are broken. A broken cusp doesn’t always cause much pain because it doesn’t affect the pulp.
When a cavity weakens a tooth from the inside out, it can lead to a broken tooth.
Vertical Root Fracture
These cracks begin at the root of the tooth and extend up towards the chewing surface. If they become infected, the area around the root will be inflamed and cause pain.
Causes of broken tooth
Sometimes there has been an obvious blow to a tooth due to an accident or sports injury. Other times, the reason isn’t so obvious. There are multiple factors that can weaken a tooth until an occlusal surface chips or a noticeable break occurs. The tooth structure may have been weakened by a cavity. If a filling was large, the tooth enamel around the filling could be too thin to withstand the constant wear and tear of biting and chewing. Your tooth enamel may be crazed with fine fractures due to the even greater forces of bruxism (involuntary nighttime teeth grinding). Malocclusion may cause some of your upper and lower teeth to interfere with each other when you eat. Just as in the case of bruxism, the added stress of tooth-on-tooth impact and grinding can result in crazing and worn down enamel. Even chewing soft food can cause a tooth to break if the tooth’s surface has been sufficiently weakened.
How can I tell if I have a cracked tooth?
The signs can be difficult to spot and the symptoms will vary. You may get pain from time to time when you are chewing, especially when you release the biting pressure. Extreme temperatures, especially cold, may cause discomfort. Or you may be sensitive to sweetness, but with no signs of decay. A small area of the gum near the affected tooth may swell.
If the pain is severe, take pain relief like you would normally take for a headache. Always check with your doctor or pharmacist if you are taking any other medication.
Why don’t cracks show up on a dental x-ray?
Unfortunately, dental x-rays sometimes don’t show up the cracked tooth. This is because the x-ray beam must be parallel to the crack before it can penetrate it.
However, sometimes other signs of a crack may show up. With a vertical root fracture, if the crack has been there long enough, vertical bone loss near to the root can be seen. Your dentist may use a bright light or a magnifying glass to find the crack. They may also use a special dye to follow the course of the crack.
What Can You Do immediately at home
Broken, chipped, cracked, or fully removed – all not-so-great situations, but they can get much worse if not taken care of properly.
A tooth with a minor crack or chip can wait for medical attention, but you will want to be cautious about eating foods that are tough to bite or chew. You’ll also want to be attentive to foods with extreme temperatures. Use over-the-counter pain meds as needed.
Whether your broken tooth is the result of a cavity or external event, you’re going to want to call a dentist immediately. In the meantime, these steps should be taken:
- Rinse your mouth out with warm water or saltwater.
- Apply a cold compress to the cheek near the broken tooth.
- Apply gauze to the broken tooth to help soak up the bleeding. If gauze isn’t readily available, a wet tea bag can be used as a substitute. Note, bleeding should subside after 10 minutes.
- If you experienced a severe break, you need to see a dentist within 24 hours. If you aren’t able to make it to a dentist immediately, head to a local drug store for dental cement. It can be used as a quick fix until you seek medical attention.
- Take an over-the-counter pain reliever to help with the discomfort.
Tooth Avulsion (completely removed)
This is a dental emergency and will need immediate attention. If the tooth was fully removed, make sure to handle the removed tooth by the crown. DO NOT grab the tooth by the root. A tooth that was completely knocked out could cause severe nerve damage. Don’t worry, replacing the tooth in the socket is possible, but treatment is most successful if done right away.
What dentists Can Do for broken tooth repair
Do not let a broken tooth go untreated. The damaged area will be susceptible to tooth decay. Untreated cracks and chips can lead to teeth breaking off at the root, which is an extremely painful condition requiring emergency root extraction. Depending on the condition of your broken tooth, you may need a crown or extraction followed by replacement with a bridge or implant crown. If your tooth is only slightly chipped, bonding or a porcelain veneer may be all you need.
Dental Filling and Bonding
With minor fractures, your tooth may need only a filling to be repaired. For front teeth, a dentist will use a tooth-colored composite resin to repair teeth, called bonding.
Because it is such a simple procedure, bonding doesn’t usually require the numbing of the tooth. First, the dentist roughens the tooth and then adds the adhesive. Then, they’ll apply the bonding material, shaping it to look like a natural tooth. Last, the dentist will use an ultraviolet light to harden the material.
A root canal is necessary when the crack in a tooth extends into the pulp. If you are experiencing tooth sensitivity, swelling, or a toothache, you are likely in need of a root canal. This treatment involves removing the nerve and decayed tooth matter. Then, the root canal is cleaned and sealed. If necessary, a crown will be added. Without immediate treatment, it can cause the infection to spread and lead to other serious health problems.
Dental veneers are usually used for damaged front teeth, as this treatment provides the most realistic and attractive results. A veneer is a resin composite material or tooth-colored porcelain material that is placed on the whole front of the tooth, transforming the tooth’s appearance. A thicker section is applied to replace the fractured part of the tooth. Another benefit is that they can last up to 30 years, so you won’t need them replaced regularly.
To prepare your teeth for veneers, your dentist will remove some of the tooth enamel so it won’t look bulky. Then, impressions of the tooth will be taken and sent to a dental lab to make your veneer, which will take a couple of weeks. Once ready, the surface of teeth must be etched and roughed with liquid. The veneer is placed on the tooth using a special cement, and your dentist will use a special light to activate the chemicals and harden it.
If you’re tooth cannot be saved, you may need to have a dental implant. A fractured tooth can’t be treated once the crack extends below the gum line. In this case, the entire tooth must be extracted. Then, you can receive your dental implant to take the place of your missing tooth. This procedure often takes several months as it requires your bone to heal around the titanium frame or post. Once complete, dental implants act as roots for an artificial tooth, securely placed in your jawbone.
Crowns are a common form of restorative treatment for fractured or broken teeth. Permanent crowns can be made of a variety of materials each with their own benefits: porcelain, ceramic, metal, porcelain fused to metal, or resin. If the root of the tooth is still intact after breakage, your dentist may need to perform a root canal and build up the structure before adding a dental crown.
A dental crown procedure usually only takes a couple of visits to the dentist’s office. First, they may take an x-ray to examine the surrounding bone and roots. If there are no issues found, the dentist will numb the tooth area, remove some of the remaining tooth, and prepare the area for a crown. You may also need a filling to build up the tooth if there are large chips or breaks in the tooth. Then, an impression of your tooth will be made along with the opposing tooth you use to bite down. This will be sent to a lab where the crown will be made, which can take about 2-3 weeks. Once ready, you’ll have your second appointment where your dentist can permanently cement your new crown in place.
After treatment for a cracked tooth, will my tooth completely heal?
Unlike broken bones, the crack in a tooth will never heal completely. After treatment, a crack may get worse and you could still lose the tooth. It is still important that you get treatment, because most cracked teeth can work normally for years after treatment. Your dental team will be able to tell you more about your particular problem and recommend a treatment.
Do Chipped Teeth Grow Back?
Unfortunately, chipped and cracked teeth do not grow back. Once a piece of a tooth has come off, it will not regrow, no matter what you do. That’s why it’s so important to take as many preventative steps as possible.
How much will my treatment cost?
The cost will vary depending on what treatment you need. There may be extra costs if there are complications and you need more treatment. Ask your dental team for a treatment plan and a written estimate before you start treatment.
There are a number of ways to prevent cracking in teeth, such as avoiding hard foods and wearing a mouth guard while playing sports. Taking proper care of your teeth and going to the dentist for regular visits will help your keep your teeth healthy and in good shape.
The longer you delay repairing a cracked tooth, the greater the risk is for an infection to develop. If you are experiencing pain in your teeth from a possible cracked tooth, contact dentist so he can examine your teeth and apply the appropriate treatment as soon as possible.