Having a cracked tooth can sound scary and painful; but it doesn’t have to be if you know the facts and seek treatment from a professional right away. There are many things that might cause a tooth to crack; from tooth grinding to naturally occurring cracks as one ages. Molars are particularly vulnerable to cracks as they absorb the most force when chewing. Cracked teeth are relatively common and are one of the top causes of tooth loss. If you think you might have a cracked tooth, it is best to make an appointment to see your dentist right away.
What Causes a Cracked Tooth?
There are many reasons a tooth may crack, including:
- Chewing or biting hard foods such as ice, nuts, fruit stones or hard candy
- Extreme teeth grinding
- Trauma to the mouth (ie a sports injury, car accident etc.)
- Sudden changes in temperature in the mouth
- Large fillings that weaken the structure of the tooth
- Gum disease when bone loss is present
- Age – most cracked teeth occur in people over age 50
What Types of Cracks can Occur?
Cracks can occur in different ways such as:
- Craze lines: These are minuscule cracks in the enamel of the tooth. These cracks cause no pain and don’t require treatment.
- Fractured cusp: This type of crack typically occurs around a previous filling. It doesn’t usually affect the pulp of the tooth (where the nerves, connective tissue and blood vessels are) and as a result isn’t very painful.
- Cracks that extend into the gum line: A tooth that has a vertical crack that extends through it but has not yet reached the gum line is usually able to be saved. However if the crack extends into the gum line the tooth may need to be removed. Immediate treatment offers the best chance of saving the tooth.
- Split tooth: A tooth with a crack that extends from the surface to below the gum line. In some cases the tooth can actually be broken into two pieces. In the case of such a serious crack it is unlikely the entire tooth can be preserved, but your dentist may be able to save part of it.
- Vertical root fracture: This type of crack begins below the gum line and travels upward. These cracks are often not visible and as a result can go unnoticed unless the tooth becomes infected. In these cases the tooth often needs to be extracted.
What are the Symptoms of a Cracked Tooth?
Some people have a cracked tooth and don’t experience any symptoms. Others do, and common symptoms include:
- Pain when chewing or biting, especially when you release the bite
- Sensitivity to hot, cold and sweetness
- Pain that comes and goes, but is rarely constant
- Swelling and irritation of the gum around the damaged tooth
How is a Cracked Tooth Diagnosed?
Cracked teeth can be difficult to diagnose as X-rays don’t always reveal a crack, and not everyone presents typical symptoms. To help confirm that a tooth is cracked your dentist will likely do some or all of the following:
- A thorough discussion of your dental history, particularly whether you tend to eat lots of hard foods or grind your teeth
- A complete physical examination using a magnifying lens and dental explorer
- Application of a dental dye which can make the crack more visible
- Gently probing the gums looking for inflammation which is especially helpful in finding cracks below the gum line
- An x-ray of the teeth – while it may not expose a crack it could reveal poor pulp health which can occur if a crack is present
How is a Cracked Tooth Treated?
The course of treatment will depend on the type and severity of the crack, as well as location and symptoms of the patient. Your dentist will recommend one of the following courses of treatment:
- Bonding: This procedure includes applying a plastic resin to the crack, restoring it’s appearance and function.
- Crown: A dental crown is a device made of porcelain or ceramic which fits over the damaged tooth or acts as a cap. The process of having the tooth prepared and the crown made can take a couple of weeks and is usually completed over the course of two visits. Once the crown has been formed, your dentist will fit it and cement it over the tooth.
- Root Canal: This treatment is typically selected to treat cracks that extend into the pulp of the tooth; as the damaged pulp must be removed to restore some structural integrity to the tooth. This can prevent the tooth from becoming further weakened or developing an infection.
- Extraction: In some cases when the nerves and roots of the tooth are badly damaged, removing the tooth is often the best option.
- No treatment: It is common to have tiny, hairline cracks in the enamel of their teeth. If these cracks don’t cause pain or cosmetic concerns, your dentist will likely advise that they be left alone.
What are the Possible Complications of a Cracked Tooth?
The most common complication of a cracked tooth is the development of an infection that if left untreated could spread to the bone and gums. Some of the symptoms of a dental infection are:
- Swollen gums
- Sensitivity to heat and cold
- Pain (especially when chewing)
- Tender glands in the neck
- Bad breath
In the case of a serious infection your dentist may need to drain pus from the infected area and will likely prescribe an oral antibiotic to cure the remainder of the infection.
How can Cracked Teeth be Prevented?
The best way to prevent teeth from becoming cracked is to practice excellent dental hygiene, as strong healthy teeth are much less likely to crack. Brushing your teeth twice a day, daily flossing and visiting your dentist twice a year are great ways to practice preventive care.
If you are particularly concerned about your teeth becoming cracked, you could avoid chewing and biting hard food. It is also very important to wear a proper mouthguard when playing contact sports or at night if you are prone to grinding your teeth.
If you think you might have cracked a tooth, you can rinse your mouth with warm water and apply ice to the outside of your cheek to avoid swelling. You can take anti-inflammatory painkillers such as ibuprofen which will help to decrease pain and swelling. The most important thing to do is to make an appointment to see your dentist as soon as possible, as delaying treatment could cause further damage or allow time for an infection to develop.
It is fairly common to experience a cracked tooth at some point and there are many options to save your tooth and/or its appearance. Immediate treatment provides the best chance of saving your tooth and preventing infection or further damage. You may experience some mild pain after your treatment, but it should not last more than a day or two.
Overall, while it may be upsetting to discover you have a cracked tooth, don’t panic! The wonderful dentists and staff at Stonegate Dental will go to great lengths to ensure that your treatment and result have you feeling comfortable and confident. Contact us to learn more about the cost and options of having your cracked teeth treated.
Regular dental visits and the practice of excellent dental hygiene will go very far in preventing cracked teeth. We look forward to helping you achieve and maintain a beautiful and healthy smile.