Despite the enamel of the teeth being the hardest substance in the body, it, just like anything else, is subject to wear and tear and traumatic injury (the most common form of damage). If you think that your tooth might be cracked, it is important that you visit a general dentist or an endodontist (a specialist dedicated to saving teeth) before the damage (if it exists) gets worse and the tooth might not be salvageable. Once the crack spreads down to the gum line or below, the tooth generally cannot be saved and will need to be removed to prevent infection. Part of a split tooth may be saved, depending on where the vertical split occurs. Typically, vertical fractures start on the chewing surface and work down to the pulp. There is, however, the opposite fracture, known as a vertical root fracture, which starts in the root area and progresses upwards. Unfortunately, they often display minimal or no symptoms until the surrounding bone and gum become infected, usually resulting in a need to remove the tooth. Again, only a trained dental professional will be able to determine this.
How do I know if my tooth is cracked?
Symptoms are variable, ranging from a very mild change in sensation when chewing, to acute pain whenever the tooth is used. Some people feel pain when there is exposure to hot or cold materials, and, most frustrating, the pain may come and go. Pain is caused by irritation of the pulp, the relatively soft material on the inside of the tooth, where the nerve supply (and, therefore, the sensation of the tooth) is found. If one has a fractured cusp (broken off piece of a chewing surface), often there are no symptoms at all, because the pulp is still intact. To alleviate acute symptoms while waiting to see the dentist, some people find relief by biting down gently on a dry gauze swab; avoid using dental analgesics.
Why does a cracked tooth hurt?
If there is a vertical crack in the tooth leading down to the pulp area, any slight movement of the tooth will cause pain as the nerves are irritated. If the crack allows bacteria in, the pulp may become infected and the pain might be secondary to a tooth infection, which can spread to the bone of the jaw or the surrounding gums, also causing pain.
What if my tooth is chipped?
Most chipped teeth can be easily repaired, most commonly by reattaching the broken-off piece of enamel, or by using a simple filling the same color as the tooth. Some minor cracks, called craze lines, while possibly unattractive, pose no problem at all. These are found in most adults, typically on the rear teeth, and can usually be differentiated from more serious cracks with a technique called transillumination, where a bright light is transmitted with craze lines, but not with a true crack.
How is my cracked tooth treated?
As mentioned above, often a small fracture can be treated with an artificial filling. Your dentist may elect to place a crown over the chewing surface of the tooth to enhance its strength. Root canal treatment may be required if the pulp is involved. Once treated, a repaired tooth should give you years of symptom-free chewing.
After treatment for a cracked tooth, will my tooth completely heal?
Despite being similar in nature to bone, cracked enamel does not heal, and some cracks, despite treatment, can spread further. It is important that regular dental checkups are scheduled to monitor your teeth.
What can I do to prevent my teeth from cracking?
Since the major cause of cracked teeth is trauma, it is always advisable to wear protective mask and a mouth guard when playing contact sports. Mouth guards are a very inexpensive way to protect your teeth.
It would help to avoid chewing on hard objects such as popcorn kernels, or ice. Using your teeth as a tool to loosen something is strongly discouraged.
If clenching or grinding your teeth is a habit, your dentist may be able to fit you with a mouth guard or retainer to protect your teeth while sleeping.