Teeth are one of the strongest parts of the human body. We use them to bite, chew, cut and tear our way through food every day. Teeth can withstand a huge amount of force over the course of our lives, but it doesn’t mean that they are invincible!
Quite often they can chip, crack or break due to a number of reasons including:
Biting down on something hard accidentally;
Accidents including falling/being hit in the face or mouth;
Knocking your tooth on glass cup or bottle;
Having hidden cavities that weaken the tooth from the inside out;
Old, weak or leaking fillings;
Having large amalgam (silver) fillings that don’t support the remaining enamel of the tooth;
Clenching and grinding habits.
When you chip a tooth, you generally won’t feel any severe pain. However your tongue usually feels the sharp edge of the tooth quickly, and you may feel some sensitivity to cold drinks or air. If the amount of tooth lost isn’t great, this can be easily repaired with a filling, or sometimes just a smoothing over of rough edges!
When your tooth has cracks in it, sometimes you won’t feel any pain or realize it until it is too late!
Minor tooth cracks do not cause pain, but over time as the fracture gets worse it can start to cause pain on biting and chewing. The pain from a cracked tooth may come and go and can sometimes present as sensitivity to hot or cold drinks.
Sometimes cracks can be large, stained and very obvious, and other times cracks can appear like a thin hairline crack in piece of glass - almost invisible to the naked eye.
In the worst case scenario, cracks in a tooth can allow bacteria to ingress into the nerve, or simply chewing on a cracked and weakened tooth can lead to a split or broken tooth!
A broken tooth is the next step up from a cracked tooth. Unlike a cracked tooth, a broken tooth will often cause pain and discomfort when eating, will trap food and will be very obvious.
You will need to see a dentist as soon as possible if you break a tooth, as a broken or open tooth can easily become infected. Your dentist will aim to find out if any factors contributed to the tooth breaking, and whether or not future cracks or broken teeth can be avoided.
If a tooth is badly broken, it may require a crown to strengthen it, and if a nerve is damaged or exposed, root canal treatment may even be required.
What Your Dentist Will Do
Sometimes surface cracks only affect the outer enamel (white surface) of the tooth, and can be monitored. Your dentist will aim to highlight preventative measures to help prevent future cracking and/or protect the teeth.
This type of fracture involves a major part of the tooth, or sometimes the entire tooth. Your dentist will sometimes take x-rays to assess the nerve and attempt to find out how badly the tooth is cracked. Often cracks do not show up on an x-ray until it is too late, so your dentist may need to do some investigation. If the tooth is not yet broken, now is the chance to try and prevent the cracks spreading deeper into the tooth by changing some eating habits, or by wearing a night guard splint at night!
Sometimes small cracks can be temporarily repaired with white filling material. However, the tooth will often need a crown to prevent the crack from getting worse. Think of a crack in your wall at home: if the crack is small, sometimes a ‘patch up’ repair will suffice. However if your wall was cracked from top to bottom, any good builder or repairman will tell you that a major repair is required.
Minor chips don’t always need treatment. But if your dentist suggests repairing it, or if the chip is bothering you in terms of how it looks or feels, then filling material can be used to repair the tooth. Sometimes these repairs can last years, but they are generally a temporary option as white filling relies on how strong it can stick to your tooth in order to stay on.
If the tooth is broken, this requires either a crown, a large filling and/or root canal treatment. Simply patching up a badly broken tooth with a damaged nerve can get the tooth looking great on the outside, but will often result in an infection that is covered up with nowhere to go but deeper!
Decay-Induced Broken teeth
In this case the tooth has broken or crumbled because a cavity has weakened it from the inside out. Sometimes this can happen without even eating anything hard. Your dentist will evaluate the cavity and recommend the best way to fix the tooth. If the decay is extensive however and goes right down to the bone, the tooth may need to be removed completely, or more complex work may need to be done to save it.
We hope this article has given you some more insight into three very common issues with teeth: Chips, Cracks and Broken teeth. If you suspect you are clenching or grinding your teeth, please see our blog post on Clenching and Grinding, or contact us with questions anytime!
Take care and we look forward to seeing you next time,
The team at Gateway Dental Health