How Do Cracked Teeth Occur? - Smile Dental Center

boy in dentist chair pointing at toothOur teeth are durable, allowing us to bite and chew solid foods but are not indestructible. Swift or sharp forces can cause damage and gradual erosion may occur from grinding and tooth decay. In these instances, as well as after root canal treatments and dental fillings, your teeth can crack.

Cracks are the primary cause of lost teeth in the Western world. When cracks happen, immediate dental treatment is imperative to lessen pain, repair the damage and prevent future decay and infection.

Sources of Cracked Teeth

A number of factors that apply force or cause enamel to wear away can result in cracked teeth, including:

  • A sharp force or blow to the mouth
  • Chronic teeth grinding
  • Tooth decay
  • Large root canal treatments and dental fillings, which weaken a tooth’s integrity
  • Chewing or biting down on hard foods, including nuts, hard candy and ice
  • Sharp changes in temperature to your mouth
  • Age, with risks for cracks increasing after 50
  • Weak teeth, which occur as a result of enamel erosion or compromised tooth structure. Genetics, decay and previous dental work can play a role in teeth cracking.

Signs of a Cracked Tooth

Cracked teeth are not always obvious, especially when a hairline fracture occurs. However, one or a combination of the following signs can indicate you’re dealing with this condition:

  • Pain when you chew or bite down
  • Greater tooth sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures
  • Pain that does not subside
  • Swelling in part of the gums
  • Bad breath

Irritation of the pulp, where the tooth’s nerves are located, is behind the pain you feel – especially as a crack causes enamel to rub against tissue. Ignoring a cracked tooth can mean the pulp experiences greater, if not irreparable, damage and increases risk of decay.

Types of Cracked Teeth

Not all cracked or fractured teeth are identical. They can range from small, barely visible imperfections to distinct tooth breakage or a clear split. A tooth fracture can affect just the enamel, go further into the dentin or down to the pulp.

Generally, your front teeth and those located toward the rear of your jaw are more likely to fracture. Common issues include:

  • Fine cracks in the enamel, known as craze lines. As these are superficial, treatment is not always recommended.
  • A fractured cusp, which is a deeper crack that can extend into the dentin. This type may result from a large filling compromising a tooth’s structure.
  • Longer vertical cracks that reach the gumline.
  • A split tooth, which involves a crack that goes past the gumline. You may see part of your tooth break off when this occurs.

These teeth may not be salvageable and a dentist may opt to extract the tooth to prevent an infection. Typically, many people experience just one cracked tooth. Yet trauma from an accident or sports injury can result in multiple fractured teeth.

Delaying dental treatment can result in significant complications, including:

  • An abscess around the tooth
  • Infection that spreads to the gums and jawbone
  • Fever
  • Tenderness around the neck

Treatment for a Cracked Tooth

To determine if a tooth is fractured, your dentist will examine the area causing you pain. A magnifying device can indicate if small cracks have formed on the tooth. Other methods include an explorer tool that detects edges from a crack, X-rays, tests for inflammation or having you bite down on something.

If an abscess has formed, you’ll have that drained first and be prescribed a course of antibiotics to control the infection. Based on the type of crack, your dentist will recommend:

  • Bonding, which uses resin to close the crack and preserve the tooth’s structure.
  • Veneers, which help close the crack and improve the tooth’s appearance.
  • Dental crowns, in which a porcelain or ceramic cap is placed on the damaged tooth after some enamel is shaved away. Both traditional and same-day crowns can preserve a damaged tooth.
  • Root canal, when the damage reaches the pulp. During this procedure, the damaged or infected pulp is removed first before a crown is added
  • Extraction, when a tooth that can’t be saved is removed. Following this procedure, you’ll discuss various restorative procedures to maintain your bite strength.

To learn more about available options for repairing a fractured tooth, contact our Shelton office today.