A cracked tooth is a tooth that has become broken.
Different Types of Cracks
Teeth can crack in several different ways:
- Cracked tooth: This is when a crack runs from the biting surface of the tooth down towards the root. Sometimes it goes below the gum line and into the root. A cracked tooth is not split into two parts but the soft, inner tissue of the tooth is usually damaged.
- Craze lines: These are tiny cracks that affect only the outer enamel of the tooth. They are common in all adult teeth and cause no pain. Craze lines need no treatment.
- Cracked cusp: The cusp is the pointed part of the biting surface of the tooth. If a cusp becomes damaged, the tooth may break. You will usually get a sharp pain in that tooth when biting.
- Split tooth: This is often the result of an untreated cracked tooth. The tooth splits into two parts. Vertical root fractures are cracks that start in the root and go up towards the biting surface.
Causes of Cracked Tooth
- Extreme tooth grinding, which can put the teeth under enormous pressure.
- Large fillings that weaken the tooth.
- Chewing or biting on something hard: for example ice, boiled sweets, fruit stones or meat bones.
- A blow to the chin or lower jaw.
- Gum disease, if there has been bone loss. This could make the teeth more likely to suffer from root fractures.
- Sudden changes in mouth temperature.
Signs of Cracked Tooth
The signs can be difficult to spot and the symptoms will vary. You may get pain from time to time when you are chewing, especially when you release the biting pressure. Extreme temperatures, especially cold, may cause discomfort. Or you may be sensitive to sweetness, but with no signs of decay. A small area of the gum near the affected tooth may swell.
However, sometimes other signs of a crack may show up. With a vertical root fracture, if the crack has been there long enough, vertical bone loss near to the root can be seen. Your dentist may use a bright light or a magnifying glass to find the crack. They may also use a special dye to follow the course of the crack.
It is important to get advice as soon as possible to help the treatment be more effective. If they are not treated, cracked teeth can lead to the death of the nerve, and an abscess might grow. The tooth could need root canal treatment or even taking out. In severe cases the tooth can actually split in two. If this happens your dentist will not be able to save the tooth and it will need to be taken out.
The type of treatment depends on the amount of damage to the tooth. Ask your dental team what is the best treatment for you:
- This is when a plastic resin is used to fill the crack. It can easily repair a small chip off the biting edge of the tooth. Bonding can restore the shape of the tooth.
- Cosmetic contouring: This is done when the chip is very small. The rough edges of the tooth are rounded and polished to blend away the crack.
- Veneers: These are ideal when there is still a fair amount of tooth remaining, because they are long lasting and need the least amount of tooth removing first. A veneer is a thin layer of porcelain or plastic material made to fit over the front surface of the tooth.
- Crowns: These are used for a tooth that is not suitable for a veneer. A crown fits over what is left of the tooth, making it strong and giving it the appearance of a natural tooth. If the nerve has been damaged and becomes infected you may need to have root canal treatment first. This involves removing all infection from the root canal. The root is then cleaned and filled to prevent any further infections. The tooth would then be fitted with a crown to give it extra support.
There are some precautions you can take:
- Wear a mouthguard: If you grind your teeth at night, have a night-guard made to protect your teeth. If you play sports, wear a custom-made mouthguard.
- Avoid biting or chewing on hard objects.