Causes of a Broken Tooth
Our teeth go through a lot in a lifetime. Chewing alone can cause quite a bit of wear and tear, especially if your diet consists of nuts, steak, other tough foods, soda, or sticky candies like caramel and gummy snacks. Teeth click together when you talk, and natural grinding takes place as well. Many people even brux (grind) at night, which causes additional damage to their teeth.
After looking into the constant wear teeth endure, it’s easy to see how a broken tooth could happen to anyone! Many patients come in because they simply bit down wrong on something hard and it chipped or broke their tooth. Sports injuries or unexpected accidents can also take a toll on your smile.
Dental decay or periodontal disease can also make one’s teeth more prone to breaking. When decay is allowed to progress deep into a tooth, it consumes healthy tooth structure. This makes it more vulnerable to breaking. If the decay is rampant enough, you could be eating something soft, and the tooth will just seem to crumble.
What types of tooth fracture are there?
Not all tooth fractures are equal. The severity of fractures ranges from not requiring any dental treatment to needing immediate dental treatment.
While this may sound scary, it is very common to have surface cracks on a few of your teeth. You may not know they are there until your dentist points them out. Discomfort is not typically associated with cracks, nor are they caused by decay. A great thing to do for surface cracks is to maintain good oral health at home and visit your dentist twice a year. If you are a grinder, we will fit you for a custom mouth guard to help protect your teeth from further damage.
A chip is not usually a huge cause for concern because they are generally small and do not cause much discomfort. Large chips can cause more sensitivity because the larger the chip is, the deeper into the enamel the break goes. If even a small part of the second layer of the tooth, called the dentin, is exposed, you may feel sensitivity. Chips are typically more emergent if they occur on the front teeth where others can see them when talking or smiling. Luckily, a simple composite filling material can usually be used to fix the chip. If you wait too long to fix a chip, the tooth can become more susceptible to decay.
A broken cusp is similar to a chip. Usually, this is a little more severe than a chip and can cause sensitivity. We may be able to fix it like a chip. Other times a crown may be necessary to repair the tooth. Front teeth only have one cusp, so there is little for the composite to bond to as opposed to a molar with a larger surface area. Even if the front tooth can be repaired with composite at first, there is still the possibility of needing a crown in the future.
A cracked tooth can range in severity. If you are fortunate, the crack will not be deep enough to affect the pulp or roots of the tooth. When a crack is mild, the tooth can usually be strengthened by placing a crown over the top to help keep it together. If you end up completely breaking your tooth, your pulp will more than likely be exposed, causing discomfort and constituting an emergency dental appointment. It is not uncommon when the nerve is exposed for the tooth to bleed at the pulp of the tooth. The pulp of the tooth contains the tooth’s blood supply.
If the tooth is salvageable, a root canal will need to be performed. Root canal therapy will remove the living part of the tooth so that it no longer bleeds or causes discomfort. Once a root canal is performed, a crown will be placed to protect the tooth from further damage.
What can you do at home?
A cracked, broken, or split tooth can be a scary and uncomfortable thing. If you have a piece broken from your tooth, you may keep it for the chance your dentist can reattach it. If this is the case, put the piece or tooth in a bag with milk or saliva if able to keep the tooth moist until you get to the dentist. If the tooth is causing you discomfort, taking an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory like Ibuprofen can help relieve any discomfort as well as swelling.
Next, call Lincoln Family Dentistry, your emergency dentist. It is important to see your dentist as soon as possible before the tooth breaks further or becomes infected. We will go over treatment options with you and may put you on antibiotics if the doctor believes the tooth is infected or at risk for infection.
What can your dentist do?
The severity of the crack will determine your dentist’s course of action and treatment plan. If the tooth is badly broken, but a good portion of healthy tooth structure remains, your dentist may place a crown to protect it from further damage. However, if the tooth is severely decayed, root canal therapy may need to be performed.
Root canals are often performed to clean out infection. Root canals are similar to deep fillings in the tooth, with a few extra steps to sterilize the tooth. The decay will be removed along with the infected nerve. While the tooth will no longer have a living nerve, it can remain and function normally instead of being extracted.
Once the root canal has been performed, a crown is placed to strengthen the tooth and prevent it from breaking. Dr.Kathryn Alderman and Dr. Jodi Day both perform root canal treatment regularly and will take excellent care of you.
If the pulp of the tooth is infected, a root canal is not a guaranteed course of treatment. Unfortunately, in some situations, a good option is to extract the tooth and replace it with a dental implant. Saving natural teeth is preferred when possible, but if a break is severe or infected, the tooth could need extraction. Removing the tooth will prevent it from causing further problems or infecting surrounding teeth.
In the event of a dental emergency, contact us as soon as possible to set up an appointment. We are available after hours or on weekends to take care of true dental emergencies.
Check out the “What can you do for a broken filling” video