So, you’re concerned about your teeth.
You’re doing your research and you’ve likely come across a lot of information about how you can fix a damaged or broken tooth. But how much have you read about why this tooth may have broken in the first place. There’re always underlying reasons why teeth break.
In their original form, teeth are extremely strong – in fact they are by far the strongest structure in the body. So why would such a thing break? And why would it break when you’re doing all you can to prevent it?
Most people I see with broken down teeth actually spend time on looking after them. They see a dentist with some regularity to fix problems as they arise.
So, the underlying cause is not always neglect…there’s lots of other factors involved.
And if you don’t search for and address these underlying causes, all attempts to fix your teeth will likely come up short.
You can complete the best rebuild on a tooth, using the best materials, the best lab and the best dentist. But if the underlying cause of the original break isn’t addressed, then the new rebuild will be subject to the very same conditions that broke the tooth in the first place. This rebuild will fail…and in a shorter time than you’d like.
Tooth enamel is incredibly strong. In fact, it’s the hardest substance in body. But it can become brittle over time.
Cracks can appear, particularly if a tooth is heavily filled.
Unlike bone, once it’s cracked, a tooth is incapable of self-repair.
Sometimes there’s pain that is caused by a broken tooth that may come and go. Don’t be fooled by this as the longer you wait to rebuild the tooth, the more serious complications may arise.
A break can be related to a much more serious underlying issue. Deep decay can actually be present without pain. Slowly it dissolves away deeper parts of a tooth until the overlying enamel collapses and a large hole becomes evident.
Small cracks that are not dealt with can continue to develop. If they head in the direction of the nerve, it may die. If they head down the root surface, they may not be able to be reached with rebuilding material – tooth loss will be the end result.
Once broken, even if there is no pain, the underlying issue will continue to worsen with time. Therefore, all breaks should be professionally assessed as soon as possible.
Early treatment is almost always less complex and less expensive.
The sooner the break is treated, the better the outcome.
Smaller rebuilds always last longer so long-term costs are lower.
With early treatment, root canal treatments and extractions are far less likely.
When rebuilt correctly, these broken and cracked teeth can go on to function as they are meant to for many years to come.
Once fixed, be sure to ask your dentist what they feel the underlying cause of the break was. All too often this underlying cause goes unchecked and will be left to cause the demise of other surrounding teeth.
There are ways to get relief from the discomfort caused by a broken tooth, but they’re not permanent solutions. You’ll eventually need to see a dentist for a repair, particularly if the nerve becomes involved.
What can be done for a broken tooth?
There are a lot of different ways to break a tooth. The treatment needed, and its likely success depends on where the break is, the cause of the break, and the size of the break.
Below are the common types of breaks that we see, and how they are generally treated. Please keep in mind that wherever treatment is required we will numb the area and ensure no pain will be felt before we progress. A good technique means our actual process of getting numbness is itself quite comfortable.
Tiny cracks that only effect the outer enamel are extremely common in adult teeth. They are generally very shallow and cause no pain. They are not normally treated. Sometimes these cracks can collect stains. If this occurs to the front teeth and effects appearance, then we may try to cover them up. The simplest way to do this is with bleaching.
If the cracks remain visible, or there are other issues with the shape and position of the teeth, composite facings or porcelain veneers can be considered. Tiny visible cracks on many teeth could be a sign that your teeth are under heavy load. This may be due to a poor bite or a grinding habit (usually while asleep). Such teeth can be protected from heavy loads using specially fitted guards. This can prevent considerable damage and future costs.
A minor chip doesn’t always require rebuilding, If the chip is very small and not visible, then we may simply polish over the area. Sometimes the chip is visible, or large enough to need a rebuild. This is commonly a very simple process, completed with tooth coloured resin within one short visit.
A cracked tooth means there is a crack extending from the biting surface of the tooth towards the neck or the root of the tooth. It can be visible on the outside of the tooth or it can be completely unseen at the base of an old filling. It can be shallow and near the surface, or it can extend deeper. It is the precursor to a break and is often not noticed. This is because no part of the tooth is yet missing and there is no pain. When pain does arise, it’s often too late to be fixed with a simple rebuild.
A crack in a tooth can progress a lot like a crack in a car windshield will. It can be small and barely noticeable to begin with. But as stresses build and build, one day there is a snap and the crack becomes much larger. If the crack is near the outside of the tooth and shallow, then an easy rebuild is possible. If the crack extends into the nerve of the tooth, then a root canal treatment will be required to keep the tooth. If the crack extends below the gum line, then the tooth may not be able to be fixed. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential to keeping these teeth. Catching the crack in its early stages and rebuilding the tooth to restore its strength and rigidity can see these compromised teeth kept for a lifetime. Smaller cracks in teeth with small existing fillings are generally rebuilt with composite (tooth coloured) resin. If the tooth has a larger filling in place, an onlay or crown may be a better option.
When a whole piece of a back-tooth’s biting surface breaks away, it’s called a fractured cusp. This generally only occurs in teeth that already have a filling in place. It doesn’t usually involve the nerve of the tooth so there is often no pain when it occurs. Commonly, a part of a tooth breaks away because of poor choice or design. The remaining structure left is tooth this and weak to expect it to take the load of the bite over many years.
The treatment provided depends on how large the original filling is, and how much of the tooth is broken away. A small filling and small break will commonly be fixed with a composite (tooth coloured) resin rebuild. If limited structure remains, or the structure remaining appears to have cracks through it, then an onlay or crown would be a better choice.
Breaks involving decay
Decay starts from the outside of the tooth. Slowly it dissolves away deeper parts of the tooth. It weakens all of the tooth structure around it until eventually this material collapses. The first thing to do is to assess how much sound tooth structure remains by carefully removing all that is bad. If decay is extensive and enters the nerve it may require root canal treatment. It may even extend so far that the tooth cannot be rebuilt and will need to be removed. Early assessment and treatment are very important if decay is involved in a broken tooth.
If a cracked tooth is left unprotected, the crack can sometimes extend so far that it splits the tooth into two parts. A split tooth can’t be saved and needs to be carefully removed. This should be done as soon as possible as if left in place too long, the bone around the tooth can be damaged also. Many times, teeth are replaced with implants, particularly at the front of the mouth. Implants require good amounts of health bone to be placed into. Losing bone at the time a tooth is removed can make eventual implant placement far more complex and expensive.
FAQ’s About Broken and Cracked Teeth
What to do for a broken tooth?
There is no way for you to treat a cracked tooth at home.
Sometimes you may be able to temporarily repair a break at home with a product like DentaFix. Real care must be taken with such a product and I would only suggest its use if there is a break and your only symptoms are a little sensitivity. If you have a constant ache in your tooth, placing such a material may actually worsen the problem as it may block an area of pressure release.
For both cracked and broken teeth, you should see your dentist as soon as possible.
Until you can visit your dentist you should:
- Rinse your mouth thoroughly with warm water. If there is lingering pain with hot or cold liquids, the tooth may have a damaged nerve. This is a serious warning sign.
- If there is bleeding, apply pressure to the area by biting on a rolled-up piece of gauze.
- Jot down the history of any symptoms in the area in the past. This includes a difficult previous dental procedure in the area. Note the times that the pain is worse. A dentist can diagnose a lot just from a good history alone.
- If a piece broke off, you may wish to collect it and bring it to your next dental visit. It may not be able to be used in the rebuild, but it will help determine exactly what broke.
- Avoid eating or drinking things that are very hot or very cold. These may cause pain.
- Avoid eating or drinking foods that are very sweet or acidic. These may cause pain.
- If a tooth cracks, but the entire tooth remains in place, avoid all contact with this tooth until you see your dentist. This will reduce the likelihood of pain and may prevent the tooth from fracturing further and involving the nerve or the root.
Pain relief for a broken tooth
You’ve broken a tooth and its starting to become painful.
You know you need to seek treatment, but what if you can’t get to the dentist?
There are some ways for you to relieve the pain. It’s important to note that these measures are temporary only.
Don’t be fooled and let the issue drag on if the pain suddenly resolves. It will be back and can only become more complicated with time. Try the following for some relief:
- Take some over the counter pain medications. Paracetamol and Ibuprofen taken together are excellent for dental pain. Be sure these are safe to take along with any other medications you are taking.
- Avoid taking Aspirin. This medication causes bleeding problems. Taking it will complicate matters if you need to have the tooth removed. Don’t be tempted to rest an Aspirin tablet in the area where you have pain. It’s actually quite an acid compound and it will chemically burn your gums in the area. This burn can be quite painful in itself.
- Avoid any food or drink that is too hot, too cold, too sweet or too acidic. All of these are likely to irritate a tooth and cause pain.
- If you suspect swelling, apply a cold pack to the cheeks or lips in the area of the broken tooth. This should help to reduce the swelling and relieve the pain.
- Carefully floss between the teeth where the break is. Food particles wedged in this area can contribute to the pain and removing them can provide some relief.
- Use some Oil of Cloves. Dip a small piece of cotton into the oil and blot off the excess on a tissue. Place the cotton in the area of the break for 10 seconds. Try not to swallow any of the oil.
- Sleep with your head slightly elevated. Place a couple of pillows under your shoulders while sleeping. This should reduce some of the pressure in the area of the pain.
Why do people's teeth break?
There are a lot of possible causes or broken or cracked teeth. This includes:
- Biting on hard objects such as ice, hard candy, bones or fingernails.
- Trauma involving the mouth.
- Regular clenching or grinding of the teeth. Stresses continue to build and build to breaking point, particularly when a bite is unbalanced, and heavy forces are applied to fewer teeth.
- Large fillings that are left in place for too long. Large regular silver fillings are regular culprits here as they fail to support and splint the remaining structure.
- Brittle tooth structure that remains as a result of root canal treatment.
What are the symptoms of a broken tooth?
More often than not, there are no symptoms when a break occurs. You may just feel a sharp edge or roughness. When symptoms are present they can vary and may involve:
- Erratic pain when you chew. Pain with the release of biting pressure is of particular concern.
- Sharp pain with hot & cold temperature changes. Seek immediate attention if this pain lingers for more than 30 seconds as this is often a sign that the nerve is dying. Pain can very quickly escalate from this point.
- Food trapping – particularly when you eat fibrous food. A bad smell may be present when the area is flossed.
Can a cracked tooth heal on its own?
Unlike bone, once it’s cracked, a tooth is incapable of self-repair.
Stresses will continue to build and build inside the tooth. There are often no symptoms. No signs of impending danger. Until the crack suddenly develops further. And its where this crack extends to that determines the fate of the tooth. If it moves towards the nerve, or towards the root surface below the gums it may become difficult or impossible to fix.
Early diagnosis and early rebuilding to fully protect the tooth and splint it back together again gives the tooth the best chance for long term survival.
How much does it cost to repair a broken tooth?
At Melbourne dentist a repair can cost between $200 and $1900 depending on the severity of the break and your own treatment preferences. Come in to chat with us to see what’s possible.
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