Chipped, Cracked, or Broken Teeth
by Dr. Beau Beecher, DDS on 2/27/2019
Your teeth may be strong, but they are far from unbreakable. Teeth can chip or break, most frequently from falling and making contact with the ground, being struck in the face or mouth, or biting down on something hard.
You may not even feel any pain when it happens, depending on the severity of the break and whether or not the nerve endings have been damaged.
It’s always best to schedule an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible, no matter the severity. But it can also be helpful to know the differences between a chip and a break and some basic treatment options that you can perform in the meantime, ahead of your appointment.
Chipped, cracked, or broken?
Most damaged teeth can be categorized as chipped, cracked, or broken.
Minor chips can be painless and may not require treatment. Your dentist may opt to use filling material to prevent the chip from worsening or simply polish and smooth out the chipped area. But significant chips can expose the inner nerve endings of the tooth, leading to increased sensitivity and pain when chewing. A crown may be necessary to restore the shape of the tooth.
Cracks often tend to be limited to the enamel of the tooth, but can extend as deep as the root, depending on whether it is a surface crack or a fracture of the whole tooth. You may only feel pain when chewing or when you eat or drink a hot or cold food or beverage. The change in temperature in your mouth will typically trigger the feeling of pain.
Minor cracks are not as serious and can be addressed with light treatment, but a complete crack is a different story. Some can be repaired with filling material and a crown to stop the spread of the crack. But if nerve endings and other tissues are damaged, a root canal might be necessary.
Broken teeth are the most serious. Broken cusps, which are the pointed chewing surfaces of the teeth, typically won’t cause much pain, but will need to have their shape restored with a crown. Deep breaks will lead to pain, sensitivity, and even bleeding if the nerve is exposed. Root canal treatment will be required to remove the nerve, followed by a crown to restore the tooth
Treating your tooth before your appointment
To be clear, always schedule an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible if a tooth is chipped, cracked, or broken. In the meantime, there are self-care steps you can take.
First, rinse your mouth out with warm water. If your tooth is bleeding, apply gauze to the affected area until the bleeding stops. If there is pain or swelling, you can apply a cold pack to your cheek or lips -- wherever the affected tooth is located -- for a short period.