Cracked or broken teeth are more than uncomfortable, they can also be unsightly and detrimental to oral health. Yet, many patients choose to live with cracked or broken teeth rather than seeking immediate treatment. If you have a cracked or broken tooth, don’t postpone your dental care. Without seeking emergency dental services as soon as possible, your tooth and surrounding teeth may be severely damaged or lost.
Broken or Cracked Tooth Symptoms
Unfortunately, people with a cracked or broken tooth don’t usually experience symptoms until the damage is severe. Some of common symptoms include the following:
- Pain when biting down
- Sensitivity to heat or cold
- In rare cases, a constant, dull toothache occurs
- Tooth feels loose or shifts in the mouth
- Inflammation or infection in the soft tissue around the tooth
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Bad breath that doesn’t improve after brushing and flossing
Broken or Cracked Tooth Causes
Many patients use the terms cracked and broken tooth interchangeably, but there is actually a difference. Cracked teeth are still whole, but there is a crack in the enamel and/or dentin tooth layers. Whereas broken teeth actually have a piece or pieces that have broken off. However, the same types of dental trauma can lead to both cracked and broken teeth. Common causes of cracked and broken teeth include:
- Biting into a hard object
- Trauma (fall, car accident, being hit)
- Tooth decay that weakens or damages the enamel
- Sports related injuries
- Deteriorated seal between tooth and fillings, inlays, onlays or dental crown restorations
- Pressure from untreated bruxism (nighttime teeth grinding and clenching)
- Fillings that fail, weakening the tooth structure
- Dramatic changes in temperature (eating something very hot followed by a very cold drink) can cause enamel to expand and contract quickly, leaving a crack in the tooth
- The majority of tooth cracks and breaks happen with patients over 50 whose teeth are weakened through age
Types of Cracked & Broken Teeth
Not all tooth cracks and breaks are the same, and the type of dental damage will typically determine the best restoration option. Some of the types of dental cracks and breaks we see most often include the following
- Craze lines – small cracks in the enamel surfaces of teeth that typically are not painful and don’t usually require treatment. If they have a negative impact on appearance, we may recommend sealing or filling the craze line.
- Fractured cusps – the tooth cusps are the raised areas on the biting surfaces of teeth that may be cracked or broken through daily wear and tear, facial injury, or nighttime teeth grinding and clenching. Because the crack or break is on the very tip of the tooth, it doesn’t usually cause much discomfort, but you may notice sensitive when biting down.
- Small cracks – these cracks can appear in any part of the tooth, and they don’t extend below the gum line or irritate the tooth’s nerve. If treatment is necessary, we can typically repair the smile with conservative tooth-colored fillings.
- Cracks to the gum line – when a tooth crack extends to the gum line, it is much more likely to cause sensitivity or pain. Depending on the severity of the break or crack, we may be able to save the tooth with a dental crown or root canal, but following the most extensive damage, the tooth may be extracted.
- Split teeth – this severe type of tooth crack or break starts at the biting surface and extends below the gum line. If the tooth is still staying together on its own, it is a split tooth crack, but if the tooth is separated into two segments it’s considered a break.
- Vertical root fracture – this type of tooth crack starts in the root structure below the gum line and may extend upward above the soft tissue. Because the supportive structures of teeth are damaged, they usually need to be removed.
How Dentists Diagnose Cracked Teeth
Diagnosing a cracked tooth can actually be very difficult, so it’s important you carefully explain your symptoms to the dentist. Unfortunately, not all cracks in teeth will be visible on traditional x-rays, and if you aren’t experiencing the symptoms of advanced dental cracks and breaks, this dental damage may go undiagnosed for years. In order to accurately diagnose a cracked tooth, your dentist may need to perform a variety of assessments, including:
- Discussion of dental habits – the dentist may ask you if you chew on ice, bite your fingernails, use teeth to open packages, or suffer from chronic teeth grinding and clenching.
- Visual examination – the dentist will use magnifying mirrors and/or dental microscopes to examine the surfaces of teeth for small cracks that may not appear on x-rays.
- Manual examination – using small dental exploration tools called probes, your dentist will manually place pressure on the tooth, feeling for areas where the probe catches or there is a change in the texture of the tooth.
- Dyeing the tooth – dye may be applied to a tooth prior to examination and x-rays to help any cracks or breaks in the tooth’s enamel stand out.
- Gum tissue examination – root fractures and split teeth often lead to irritation and inflammation in the soft tissue, so this can be a warning sign of dental cracks and breaks.
- Bite tests – your dentists may ask you to bite down on putty or articulation paper so they can see any unusual aspects in the way your teeth fit together.
Cracked or Broken Tooth Repair Options
Once a tooth crack or break is found, there are a variety of restoration options available to repair the tooth, and if we’re ever unable to correct the dental damage, we can remove your tooth and offer replacement solutions. The most common broken or cracked tooth restoration options include:
- Tooth-colored fillings – for small cracks and craze lines, composite resin, tooth-colored filings can be used to repair the minor damage and protect your remaining tooth structure.
- Inlays & onlays – for fractured cusps and more extensive tooth cracks, an inlay or onlay may be recommended. These dental restorations are a conservative option for dental damage too extensive for repair using a filling that isn’t severe enough to necessitate a dental crown restoration.
- Dental crowns – to save a tooth that has more extensive damage, including cracks that extend to the gum line and some split tooth cases, dental crowns may be placed over the top of the damaged tooth to restore lost parts of the tooth and strengthen the remaining dental structure.
- Root canal therapy – when a crack or break causes damage below the enamel surface of a tooth, we may need to perform a root canal to remove and replace the soft, inner pulp portion of the tooth. Following the root canal procedure, we will typically place a dental crown to protect the remaining tooth structures.
- Extraction and replacement – as a last resort, we may recommend removal and replacement of the damaged tooth. Following extraction of a damaged tooth, we offer traditional fixed bridges as well as dental implant supported restorations.
Cracked Tooth Prevention
Sometimes a tooth will crack or break despite best efforts to maintain oral health, but there are some steps you can take to prevent tooth cracks and breaks, including:
- Maintain great at-home oral hygiene every day by brushing teeth for two minutes at a time twice a day and flossing daily. You should also visit us every six months for dental exams and teeth cleanings.
- Avoid biting into hard objects like ice, fingernails, and packaging. These seemingly harmless habits can lead to extensive dental damage.
- Wear your athletic mouthguard to protect your smile when you engage in sports.
- Use an oral appliance to protect teeth from nighttime teeth grinding and clenching (bruxism).
Meet the Emergency Dentists Greenbelt Trusts
Since 1924, dental patients in Greenbelt have relied on McCarl Dental Group for urgent dental care and a range of preventive, restorative, and cosmetic dentistry solutions. Our knowledgeable dental professionals have given generations of Greenbelt families a reason to smile, and we’re here to help whenever our patients need us most, including offering services to restore smiles when dental emergencies occur. Whatever the cause of your cracked or broken tooth, we can stop the pain and help get your beautiful smile back. Call to schedule an emergency dentistry appointment today.