Cracked teeth are a common condition among adults. It is the leading cause of tooth loss in the US. Some fractures are visible, while others require a professional to diagnose the issue.
Below you will learn what symptoms you should look for and when they are a reason for concern. Have a look at the types of fractures and how they may be treated.
Symptoms of a cracked tooth
Many patients don’t notice when their dentition is fractured. This could be because the damage is very small or because it doesn’t emit any signs. Nonetheless, you can usually spot the problem yourself.
The most common cracked tooth symptoms include:
pain, especially when chewing and biting,
sensitivity to hot and cold foods and drinks,
soreness when sucking on sweets, and
swelling of the gums.
You may also feel radiating pain that is hard to pinpoint. Many nerves in the mouth join, making it difficult to localize a dental problem. It might even feel like a tooth on your top arch is hurting when the damaged one is on the bottom.
What causes a fractured tooth?
A cracked or fractured tooth does not necessarily have to be the result of an injury. It may also happen because of failed dental treatment, infection, or a disease. Here are some risk factors:
failed root canal treatment,
trauma and injury,
gum disease, especially with bone loss,
diet rich in hard foods, and
abrupt changes in mouth temperature (mainly from food and drinks).
Failed treatment, whether it be root canal or fillings, make up a lot of the cases of fractured dentition. Over 32% of cracked teeth happen to patients over the age of 50.
Types of cracked teeth
Fractures are commonly categorized according to their placement.
Craze lines appear on most adult teeth. They are minuscule fractures on the surface of enamel. This type of fracture causes no pain and requires no treatment. Brushing your teeth properly is advised to prevent bacteria and food debris from getting stuck. You can also use fluoride products to help strengthen enamel.
A cusp is one of the humps on a back tooth. A fractured cusp is usually associated with large dental fillings. The good news is that it doesn’t often reach the pulp and doesn’t cause much pain. The area affected is the chewing part and it may happen while you are biting into something hard.
Cracks that extend into the gum line
Before a crack reaches the gumline, it’s not hard to fix. Once this point passes, it may cause trouble. These fractures bring on pain while you are breathing and drinking cold fluids. Early treatment is vital in this scenario.
If a fracture extends below the gumline and splits the tooth into two parts, you might not be able to save it. The cause is most often a long-term crack that has been neglected. Endodontic treatment may be needed and a portion of the tooth may be saved.
Vertical root fractures
This type of fracture begins at the root and extends above the gumline. It’s easy to miss one, as they show relatively few symptoms. The diagnosis usually occurs when the surrounding bone and gum become infected. More often than not, the tooth is removed.
Can you do anything about a crack from home?
Unfortunately, there are no home remedies for a cracked tooth. There are some steps you may want to take while waiting for your appointment and a lot you can do to prevent a fracture in the future.
If you notice any symptoms:
Rinse your mouth with warm water to clean the area.
Use a cold compress on your cheek. This helps keep swelling down.
Take an anti-inflammatory painkiller such as ibuprofen.
Call your dentist to see if you can make an emergency appointment.
If that’s not possible, contact an endodontist in your area.
Try to avoid eating before your appointment. In the case that this is not possible, stick to liquids and soft foods. Don't chew on the side of your mouth where the crack is located.
How to treat a cracked tooth?
Tooth fractures require quick action. You should contact the emergency dental office as soon as possible. If you wait, you may be looking at losing your tooth or higher expenses when it comes to treatment.
X-rays will show the extent of a fracture. Your dentist may also:
ask you about your dental history and habits,
perform a visual exam,
feel for a crack with a dental explorer,
use dental dye,
probe your gums, or
check for pain when biting down.
The treatment method depends on the type of crack you have and the extent of the damage.
The dentist uses a small amount of composite to fill in the crack. Some drilling on the tooth may be required. This restores the tooth’s appearance and function. It is recommended for tiny cracks above the gum line. The procedure is very quick and non-invasive. You may not even need anesthesia.
If a tooth was badly damaged by the fracture, a part may need to be removed. The most common way to cover that up is a dental crown. Usually made from acrylic or porcelain, it covers the chewing part of dentition.
If the part that was removed is purely cosmetic in function, your dentist may recommend veneers. A part of your tooth will be shaved off and covered with a thin plate. Veneers are a great way to improve aesthetics. Teeth can be made uniform in shape and the shade can be matched to the rest of your dentition.
Root canal treatment
When a crack reaches the pulp, infection is very likely. In that case, you might need an endodontic procedure called root canal treatment. Entry into the pulp is opened up and infected material is removed. This can be finished off with a crown or large filling, depending on the tooth and extent of fracture.
If the fracture goes down the roots too far, bacteria can still enter through tiny cracks and cause the tooth to fail over time.
Extraction and tooth replacement
If a tooth is badly damaged, particularly the root or pulp, it might have to be removed. This is common especially with split teeth and vertical root features. Your dentist will recommend ways to restore your teeth which may include flipper teeth or dental implants.
What happens if you ignore a cracked tooth?
The most common consequence of ignoring a fracture is that the problem becomes bigger and harder to solve. The crack can expand and bacteria may be introduced into the pulp. In order to avoid losing your tooth, contact a dental professional as soon as possible.
What does a fractured tooth look like?
Some cracks are so small they may be invisible. The same goes for fractures below the gumline. Symptoms to look for then are pain while chewing and swollen gums. You may even experience minor bleeding.
What is cracked tooth syndrome?
This is when a tooth cracks but no parts have yet fallen off. It is sometimes referred to as a greenstick fracture. A typical sign of cracked tooth syndrome is when there is pain after biting on something while releasing.
Consultation with a dentist or endodontist is a must. A bite stick may be used to localize a fracture.
How painful is a cracked tooth?
Fractured teeth often hurt on impact. This means you might feel shooting pain when you bite or chew. Many patients describe this as very uncomfortable.
Is cracked tooth an emergency?
Yes. If you notice any symptoms you should report to a dentist or endodontist. The sooner you target the problem, the lesser the consequences will be. Ignoring a fracture, even a minor one, may lead to loss of the tooth.
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