A: Absolutely not! If you have a cracked tooth, really what you’re going to experience first is some sensitivity— basically, the tooth opens up. As it opens up, it’s going to let water and sugar in and it’s going to be sensitive. Many times that sensitivity occurs when biting and often it’s fixable with a crown or a filling of some sort.
At some point, that cracked tooth will continue to get worse and what’s called “propagate” further down the root. Sometimes, that occurs immediately when it breaks and sometimes it occurs over a year-long time span or something.
Sometimes, we need to do a root canal on that tooth but at some point, the fracture is so deep there’s no restorable solution. So, we remove it and we talk about replacing it with maybe a dental implant.
When you crack a tooth, it can be very painful but it isn’t uncommon—it’s the number one cause of tooth loss in the U.S. A cracked tooth can occur due to:
- Grinding your teeth
- Fillings that are too big
- Chewing hard foods like jawbreakers, or other hard candy and nuts
- Dental trauma such as falling onto pavement, car accident, or hitting hit with an object
- Sudden, sharp changes of temperature in your mouth. Like when you eat something really hot and try to cool it by eating ice or drinking something very cold
- Age and/or genetics
Variations Of A Cracked Tooth
When you crack a tooth it’s not a universal type of crack and different variations of a cracked tooth require a different approach.
- Craze lines— These surface-level cracks are extremely small and hard to see. That is because the tooth overall isn’t cracked, just the enamel coating. Think of it like cracking a screen protector on your phone. The screen itself isn’t cracked so there’s no real damage.
- Cusp Fracture— This type of crack typically develops surrounding a filling. Most of the time, it doesn’t affect the pulp of your tooth. Therefore, it doesn’t cause much pain, but still warrants a visit to your dentist to check on it.
- Cracks That Reach The Gum Line Or Further— Sometimes, a cracked tooth develops a vertical crack that goes throughout the tooth. If it doesn’t reach the gum line, the tooth can usually be saved. However, if the crack meets or breaches the gum line, it may require extraction. To increase the odds of saving a cracked tooth like this, immediate treatment is critical.
- Split Tooth— Exactly what it sounds like, this is when a tooth gets a crack that extends from the bottom of the tooth to beyond the gum line. The tooth at this point is separated into two pieces. Usually, a severely cracked tooth like this is an automatic extraction.
- Vertical Fracture Of The Root— Unlike most cracks that develop in the visible part of the tooth, this originates at the root. The root is hidden by the gums and so this crack remains hidden as it travels upward into the gum bed. This crack almost always mandates an extraction to prevent infection. It should be noted that this type does not usually show symptoms. So, you should see your dentist regularly to monitor developments like this.
Signs You May Have Cracked Your Tooth
Just because you have a cracked tooth doesn’t mean it will show signs or cause pain so regular checkups are crucial. However, if you were to show signs, some common indicators include:
- Sharp pain when chewing food, especially on bite release
- Sensitivity to hot, cold, or sweet foods such as soup, ice cream, or candy
- Intermittent pain
- Swollen gums around the cracked tooth
How To Diagnose
Most patients assume that diagnosing a cracked tooth is as easy as getting X-rays of their mouth at the dentist. However, X-rays don’t always show cracks in teeth, unless they are significant in size. Adding to the difficulty of diagnosing is that not everyone has symptoms when they’ve cracked a tooth. To assist in diagnosing your tooth, Dr. Vela will typically take the following approach:
- Ask about your dental habits, such as do you eat hard foods a lot or suffer from bruxism (grinding your teeth).
- Take a visual inventory of your teeth with a high-power magnification device to detect small or subtle cracks.
- Feel the surface for a crack using a tool called a dental explorer. If a crack is present, this tool will catch on the edge of a crack. It may be slight or major, but it’s enough to make a diagnosis.
- Use of dental dye, which can make the crack easier to see.
- Inspect your gums to search for signs of inflammation which is especially helpful in diagnosing vertical fractures.
- Get images of your teeth. While X-rays don’t always reveal a crack can show signs of weakened pulp. That is a common sign of a cracked tooth.
- Perform a bite test to determine if you have pain when you release.
Treatment options depend on how large or small the crack is, the location of it, symptoms, and whether it extends into your gums. Once those factors are determined, Dr. Vela may suggest one of the following treatment options:
Bonding The Tooth— Dr. Vela uses a composite resin to fill in the crack to restore aesthetics and function.
Installing A Crown— A type of protective cover or cap for a damaged tooth composed of ceramic or porcelain. It does require some shaving of the tooth to make it fit flush and the procedure can take up to two weeks. With proper care, this solution can last a lifetime.
Root Canal— When you have a severely cracked tooth that goes into the pulp, a root canal is required. This is where the damaged pulp is removed to prevent infection or further compromise the tooth.
Extraction— Sometimes, there’s just no other option when the structural integrity is damaged as well as the root and nerves. However, after extracting the tooth, it’s recommended to replace it with a dental implant to maintain jawbone integrity.
Leave It Alone— Some cracks like craze lines, if they don’t affect the aesthetics or function of your tooth can be left alone. Sometimes, it’s better to let things be and just keep an eye on it.
A cracked tooth can come with many complications or none at all, depending on many factors. The most dangerous complication is an infection in the tooth. It can spread to your jawbone and gums. If not remedied, it can cause a dangerous condition called sepsis. Signs of infection in a tooth or beyond include:
- Pain when eating
- Tender gland in your neck
- Chronic halitosis (bad breath)
- Swollen gums or abscess
Self-care and prevention
You cannot treat a cracked tooth with home remedies or natural supplements, if you’ve read that anywhere it’s false. However, you can indeed reduce your risks of cracking a tooth with some common-sense tips:
- Maintain Your Dental Hygiene— Strong teeth are not prone to cracking as easily so brush and floss twice daily and see your dentist twice a year for preventative exams.
- Don’t Chew On Hard Foods— The reasoning here is pretty self-explanatory.
- Wear A Mouth Guard When Needed— If you play sports with a lot of contact or you grind your teeth while sleeping, wear a mouth guard. It will reduce the pressure of your teeth clenching together.
If You Think You’ve Cracked A Tooth
You need to see a dentist right away if you think you’ve cracked a tooth, especially if pain is present or other symptoms. The sooner you seek treatment the better your chance of saving the tooth and/or a lot of extra money. Letting a cracked tooth go untreated can lead to far more complicated and expensive problems.
Don’t wait, contact us today to schedule your appointment and let Dr. Vela help make you comfortable and restore that tooth.