If you have a cracked tooth, prompt dental care is essential. Cracked tooth treatment can differ between preserving an otherwise healthy tooth or eventually losing a tooth that is too damaged to repair.

Are there different types of cracks?

The severity of the crack will vary depending on how deep it is and which part of the tooth is affected. Your teeth are comprised of three parts:

  • The hard enamel surface: We like to compare it to the protective tips of your fingernails.
  • The dentin: which is where you may start to feel sensitivity.
  • The nerve: which gives the tooth its life.

You may not notice or feel any symptoms from a shallow crack on the surface of the enamel. However, if you have a crack that goes through the enamel into the dentin, you usually experience sensitivity to temperatures and pain. Every time you bite down or take a sip, that crack flexes and irritates your nerves.

Deep cracks or fractures such as a root fracture are even more serious, and in some cases, the tooth becomes too damaged to salvage. This is why it is so important to seek care from your dentist if you think you have a crack in your tooth.

Dr. Langley often explains that the tooth isn't "cracked; it is cracking."

Over time, the crack may deepen, letting harmful bacteria inside. If you have a very shallow crack in your enamel, it may progress into a deeper crack causing more damage and pain.

This is why it is so imperative you seek dental care immediately and also stay current on your routine dental examinations. The sooner you receive treatment, the less damage to your tooth.

What are the common causes of cracked teeth?

To prevent damaging or cracking your teeth, please avoid the following:

  • Grinding your teeth, also known as bruxism
  • Chewing on ice cubes
  • Unpopped popcorn kernels (including half popped kernels)
  • Hard foods like hard candies (think jawbreakers, jolly ranchers, etc.)
  • Accidentally biting meat bones (think chicken wings)
  • Using your teeth as tools, such as for opening beer bottles, packages, or anything else

Large fillings also increase the risk of your teeth cracking. Every time you bite down, the filling is a wedge that stresses the tooth. Sometimes a crack develops inside the tooth near the filling, so it isn't visible. This is one reason why you should always discuss any new symptoms, worsening symptoms, pain, or concerns with your dentist.

What are some symptoms of a cracked tooth?

Sometimes you can see a crack in the tooth, but that isn't always the case since sometimes the crack is in a place that isn't visible.

Patients often notice the following symptoms, but keep in mind that sometimes a cracked tooth is asymptomatic:

  • Experience pain when you bite or chew.
  • Pain upon release means you feel the pain around the tooth when you release from biting.
  • Sensitivity to cold.
  • Sometimes there are not any noticeable symptoms.

Who is at risk for developing a cracked tooth?

Anyone may have a cracked tooth. There are situations that increase the likelihood, including:

  • Bruxism or grinding the teeth. If you grind your teeth, consider wearing a mouthguard while you sleep.
  • Large fillings, especially metal fillings. If you don't yet have cavities, prevent them by brushing as flossing as recommended and staying current on your cleaning and hygiene appointments.
  • Aging. No one can avoid aging. Just be aware that the older your teeth, the higher the odds you have small cracks or fractures forming.

Trauma from accidents or sports. Keep in mind this is not the typical cause for cracks in the teeth. The cracks we describe usually come from chronic issues like grinding, biting hard objects or wear and tear from aging. However, sometimes trauma might lead to cracks though typically, the damage from accidents results in a break or deeper fracture and is surprisingly often easier to treat.

What to do if you think you have a cracked tooth?

Schedule an appointment with your dentist immediately. While waiting for your appointment, avoid foods or drinks that may exacerbate your tooth, such as hard foods and grinding your teeth.

Can a cracked tooth be treated?

Yes, treatment is possible for a cracked tooth, especially if it is caught early enough. Most often, your dentist will treat a cracked tooth with a crown.

We like to compare a crown to a cast. You often wear a cast if you break a bone while your bone heals. Unfortunately, teeth don't heal in the same way as your bones. You need a permanent cast in the form of a crown to protect the tooth. The crown also holds the cracked tooth together, preventing or minimizing the risk of the crack expanding.

If the crack is deep and letting harmful bacteria in, treatment may involve a root canal and a crown. The last resort would be extraction for situations where the tooth is simply too damaged to save. A very deep crack can basically split a tooth.

Determining which treatment option is most appropriate will require a dental examination. Your dentist will recommend the most likely option to relieve your pain and restore your oral health.

After treatment, you may experience sensitivity while you heal. This varies depending on the symptoms you previously experienced, the severity of the crack, and your own healing process.

What can you expect from your examination?

Your dentist will examine whether you have a cracked tooth, fracture or identify any other possible issues. The tests may include X-rays or imaging, tapping on the tooth, biting, and cold testing. Your dental provider will want to know about your symptoms and try to replicate them.

Often if you have just a tiny, minor crack in a tooth, you cannot tell exactly which tooth is causing the symptoms. Your dentist will probably need to conduct a few tests to see where your sensitivity originates. Depending on your symptoms, your dentist may do additional tests. Since there are so many variations in individual patients' mouths, your examination may vary.

Sometimes during a routine examination, your dentist may notice a crack in a tooth while you don't yet feel any symptoms. They may recommend a crown to protect the tooth. Unfortunately, some patients want to wait until they experience pain even though that pain and additional damage could be avoided if they simply opt for the treatment. We encourage you to seek care as soon as possible.

If you live in the Charlotte, NC, area and have concerns about having cracked teeth, don't hesitate to contact Langley Dental Care to schedule an examination.