How do I know if I have a cracked tooth?
Even if you maintain your oral health, teeth can become damaged by cracks and fractures. You bite into something hard – Did I crack my tooth? You look in the mirror and see lines down the center of your teeth – Are my teeth breaking? How do I know if my tooth needs treatment?
These are common questions that Dr. Hochberg and Dr. Diora hear routinely, but the answer depends on the patient. There are many types of cracks and fractures. Some patients experience little to no symptoms, and others may experience signs that damage has occurred:
- Pain that is not consistent – it can come and go and may be accentuated after biting down on food and then releasing the bite
- Discomfort when eating or drinking hot or cold foods or liquids
- Sensitivity upon eating foods that are sticky, sour or sweet
- Edges that are sharp
A crack on a tooth typically begins on the chewing surface and continues downwards towards the root. Even if there is not discomfort, dental care is needed as soon as possible to prevent further damage to the tooth. How far the crack has extended into the tooth dictates the nature of the care needed. If the crack hasn’t reached the pulp (the center of the tooth that contains the nerve and the tooth’ blood supply), a crown can protect the tooth. However, when a crack has extended to the center of the tooth, a root canal and crown is usually necessary. Typically, if the damage extends to this point you’ll know it. It hurts!
Our goal is to avoid the progression of a crack. When a crack goes below the gum line, your tooth may require extraction. A crack can also occur from the root up: this is called a vertical root fracture. Oftentimes this can go unnoticed until there is an infection, or swelling of the surrounding bone or gum. In some cases, x-rays taken during your dental hygiene visit can detect the problem early.
Unlike a cracked tooth, when a portion of your tooth, a cusp, has broken off, the tooth has fractured. Fractures can occur when a tooth has a filling and becomes weakened. Once again, the treatment, whether a new filling or a crown, will depend on the extent of the damage to the tooth’s structure.
There are also cracks that require no treatment at all. Many patients notice thin lines on the surface of their teeth. These are called craze lines. As we age so do our teeth, and when our teeth’s enamel has been exposed to years of wear these small lines may become visible. Craze lines are not problematic – they’re only superficial.
Drs. Hochberg and Diora recommend:
- Don’t chew on ice.
- Keep pens or pencils out of your mouth.
- Beware of biting down on popcorn kernels, nuts that may have shells or other hard objects. Remember, hard candies should dissolve – don’t try to chew them!
- Avoid exposing your teeth’s enamel to temperature extremes, i.e. having an iced drink right after chewing hot food.
- If your occlusion (how your teeth meet) is uneven, forces are not distributed evenly. Undue force on a tooth or teeth can be a contributing factor to tooth fracture.
- Clenching and grinding can easily damage teeth. If you are aware of this daytime habit, discuss this with our dentists to learn about relaxation techniques. If it’s a nighttime occurrence you may be a candidate for a night guard to protect both your teeth and your jaw (TMJ).
- If you participate in contact sports, be sure to wear a protective mouth-guard.
If you’re concerned that you may have damaged a tooth, remember that we’re here to help! The sooner treatment is provided, the better the opportunity to ensure damage doesn’t progress. Call us for emergency tips. And when we see you, Drs. Hochberg & Diora will work with you to determine the best plan of action should treatment be needed for your cracked or fractured tooth.
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