Understanding Cracked Teeth
Have you ever noticed pain in your teeth while chewing? Or perhaps swollen gums or sensitivity to hot and cold foods? It is possible that one of your teeth have cracked, even if you haven’t noticed it.
A cracked tooth can result from chewing on hard foods, grinding your teeth while you sleep and can also occur naturally as your teeth age. It is a common condition that is treatable, but it is the leading cause of tooth loss in industrialized nations. Whether a tooth crack results from an injury or general wear and tear, you may experience a variety of symptoms that range from erratic pain when you chew to sudden pain when your tooth is exposed to heat or cold.
There are many types of cracked teeth that may appear as one or more of the following:
- Craze lines: This is a very small crack in the enamel of teeth. It does not cause pain and does not require any treatment.
- Fracture cusp: This type of crack typically occurs around a filling. It usually does not affect the pulp of the tooth (the soft center of the tooth where nerves, connective tissue and blood vessels are), and as a result, it does not cause much pain.
- Cracks that extend to the gum line: A tooth that has a vertical crack extending through it but that has not yet reached the gum line is usually savable. However, if the crack extends into the gum line, the tooth may need to be removed. Quickly seeking treatment for the tooth gives you the best chance to save it.
- Split tooth: A tooth with a crack that travels from its surface to below the gum line. It can be separated into two pieces. With such an extensive crack, it’s unlikely the entire tooth can be saved, but a dentist may be able to save a piece of it.
- Vertical root fracture: This type of crack begins below the gum line and travels upward. Oftentimes, it does not produce many symptoms, unless the tooth becomes infected. The chances of the tooth needing to be removed are high.
Available treatments will depend on the size of the crack, location, the symptoms you are experiencing and whether the crack extends into the gum line. The crack will first need to be diagnosed by a dentist.
Depending on the diagnosis, your dentist may recommend one of the following:
- Bonding: In this procedure, your doctor will use a plastic resin to fill the crack, restoring its appearance and function.
- Crown: A dental crown is a prosthetic device usually made of porcelain or ceramic. It fits over the damaged tooth or caps it. With proper care, a crown can last a lifetime.
- Root canal: When a crack is so extensive that it extends into the pulp, your dentist may recommend a root canal to remove damaged pulp and restore the integrity of the tooth. This procedure can prevent the tooth from becoming infected or weakening further.
- Extraction: When the structure of the tooth and the roots that lie below it are damaged, removing the tooth may be the only option.
- No treatment: Many people have tiny, hairline cracks in the enamel of their teeth. This is a very common occurrence. If these cracks do not affect appearance or cause pain, your dentist may advise leaving them alone.
If you feel that you may have a cracked tooth, schedule an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible. If left untreated, a cracked tooth can lead to complications such as fever, tender glands in the neck, bad breath and even an infection that can spread to the bone and gums. Your dentist will be able to advise on a treatment plan that works for you.
Good dental hygiene, avoiding hard foods and wearing a guard if you grind your teeth can go a long way in being proactive and protecting your teeth.
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Photo credit: Andrea Piacquadio