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Cracked Teeth

Cracked Teeth

Cracked Teeth

A cracked tooth refers to a tooth that has experienced a fracture, which can vary in size, severity, and location. While some cracks may be minor and not cause immediate harm, others can be significant and lead to further dental complications such as splitting or breaking of the tooth. Cracked teeth are a common dental issue observed across all age groups, including children and the elderly. However, they can occur in individuals of any age. If you suspect that you have a cracked tooth, it is crucial to consult with a dentist as soon as possible for appropriate evaluation and treatment.

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Different Types of Cracked Teeth:

  • Craze Lines: These are very fine cracks that affect only the outer enamel of the tooth. Generally, craze lines are superficial, do not cause pain, and do not require treatment.
  • Fractured Cusp: This type of crack typically occurs around a dental filling. It usually does not extend into the pulp of the tooth (the part containing nerves and blood vessels), so it often causes little to no pain.
  • Cracks Extending to the Gum Line: If a tooth has a vertical crack that extends to the gum line, immediate treatment is critical. If the crack extends below the gum line, tooth extraction might be necessary. Prompt dental care can maximize the chances of saving the tooth.
  • Vertical Root Fracture: These cracks originate at the tooth's root and travel up towards the chewing surface. Often, they show minimal symptoms unless the tooth becomes infected. In many cases, extraction of the affected tooth is necessary.
  • Split Tooth: This is a severe form of cracked tooth where the crack extends from the surface of the tooth down below the gum line, effectively splitting the tooth into two parts. In such cases, it may not be possible to save the entire tooth, but a dentist might be able to salvage a portion of it.

Potential Causes of a Cracked Tooth:

  • extreme pressure due to teeth grinding
  • biting or chewing on hard foods such as hard candy, ice or nuts
  • abrupt changes in temperature in the mouth for eating
  • blows to the mouth due to sporting injury, fall, car accident, or fistfight
  • large fillings which weaken the tooth integrity
  • something extremely hot and trying to cool your mouth with ice water
  • age as most teeth cracks for people above 50

Symptoms of a cracked tooth

  • swelling of the gum around your affected tooth
  • pain at the time of biting or chewing
  • sensitivity to heat or cold
  • pain that comes and goes though rarely constant

Diagnosing a Cracked Tooth:

To diagnose a cracked tooth, your dentist will typically undertake the following steps:

Dental History Assessment: Inquire about your dental history, including habits such as chewing on hard foods or teeth grinding, which can contribute to tooth cracking.

Visual Examination: Utilise a magnifying lens to closely examine the tooth and identify any tiny cracks that may not be visible to the naked eye.

Use of a Dental Explorer: Employ a dental explorer tool to gently probe the tooth and surrounding area. This can help detect if the explorer catches on an edge of the crack.

Application of Dental Dye: Apply a special dye which can make the crack more visible.

Gum Examination: Check your gums for signs of inflammation, as this can be an indicator of vertical cracks that irritate the gum tissue.

Dental X-rays: While X-rays may not always show the crack itself, they can reveal issues with the pulp of the tooth, suggesting the presence of a crack.

Bite Test: Ask you to bite down on something to see if pain is elicited upon releasing the bite, which is often a symptom of a cracked tooth.

Treatment Options for a Cracked Tooth:

  • Bonding: This involves using a plastic resin to fill in the crack, effectively sealing and repairing the fracture.
  • Cosmetic Contouring: This procedure smoothens and polishes rough edges of a broken tooth, improving its appearance.
  • Dental Crown: A cap, often made of ceramic or porcelain, is fitted over the tooth to protect and strengthen it. This option is suitable when there is insufficient natural tooth structure for a veneer.
  • Extraction: In cases where the tooth root and nerves are extremely damaged, complete removal of the tooth may be necessary.
  • Root Canal Therapy: This involves removing the damaged pulp from the tooth, particularly when the fracture extends into the pulp. This procedure helps prevent further weakening and decay.
  • Veneer: A thin covering, usually made of plastic or porcelain, is placed over the front of the tooth. Veneers are an option when a substantial amount of the natural tooth remains.

In some instances, a dentist may decide not to repair a cracked tooth. This decision is typically made when the fracture:

  • Does not significantly affect your appearance.
  • Does not cause severe pain.
  • Is relatively minor, such as a hairline crack that does not extend deeply.

Potential Complications of a Cracked Tooth:

The primary complication associated with a cracked tooth is the risk of infection, which can potentially spread to the surrounding bone and gum tissue. Symptoms that may indicate a dental infection include:

  • fever
  • bad breath
  • swollen gums
  • tender glands in the neck
  • pain at the time of chewing
  • sensitivity to heat and cold

In the event of an infection, your dentist may perform a procedure to drain pus from the affected area and prescribe antibiotics to help eliminate the bacteria. It is crucial to follow the dentist's recommendations and complete the full course of antibiotics if prescribed.

Self-Care and Prevention of Cracked Teeth:

While it is not possible to completely treat a cracked tooth at home, there are steps you can take to prevent one and manage the symptoms until you can see a dentist.

Maintain Good Dental Hygiene: Strong teeth are less likely to crack. Practice good dental hygiene by brushing your teeth twice daily, flossing every day, and visiting a dentist every six months for preventive care.

Avoid Chewing Hard Foods: Until you can visit a dentist, refrain from chewing on hard foods like candies, ice, or nuts, which could exacerbate the crack.

Use Protective Mouth Guards: Wear a protective mouth guard during sports activities to prevent injury. Also, consider using a night guard if you grind your teeth while sleeping.

In case you have a cracked tooth:

Rinse with Warm Water: Clean your mouth gently by rinsing with warm water to remove any food particles.

Apply a Cold Compress: To reduce swelling, apply a cold compress on the outside of your cheek near the affected area.

Pain Relief: Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pain relievers, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB), may help reduce swelling and alleviate pain. However, always follow the recommended dosage and consult your dentist or doctor if you have any concerns about medication.

Prompt Dental Appointment: Schedule an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible. Delaying treatment can increase the risk of complications.

Remember, these steps are for temporary relief and management. A dentist should evaluate any dental injury or suspected cracked tooth for appropriate treatment.

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FAQs about Cracked Teeth

Yes, a cracked tooth can often be treated. While it's not possible to 'heal' a cracked tooth in the same way as a bone, effective treatment can save the tooth and prevent further damage or infection. It's important to address a cracked tooth promptly to reduce the risk of complications.

The duration for repairing a cracked tooth varies based on the type of treatment required and the severity of the crack. Your dentist will provide a more precise timeframe based on your specific situation. For example:

  • Crowns: Fitting a crown can sometimes be done in one day, but it usually requires several appointments over a few weeks.
  • Extractions and Dental Implants: If a tooth needs to be extracted and replaced with a dental implant, the entire process can take several months, as it involves multiple stages of treatment.
  • Veneers: The process of creating and fitting a veneer generally takes about three to four weeks.

Unfortunately, dental x-rays do not always detect cracked teeth. This limitation is often because the x-ray beams need to be aligned parallel to the crack for it to be visible. In some instances, indirect signs of a crack may be apparent. For example, in the case of a vertical root fracture that has been present for an extended period, vertical bone loss adjacent to the tooth root might be detectable on an x-ray. Dentists commonly use additional methods such as bright lights, magnifying lenses, or special dyes to more accurately identify and follow the course of the crack.

Yes, in certain circumstances, a tooth with a severe crack may need to be extracted. It is vital to consult your dentist as soon as you suspect a cracked tooth. Timely intervention can increase the chances of saving the tooth, and your dentist will advise you on the best course of action based on the severity and location of the crack.

While it is not possible to completely prevent teeth from cracking, there are several effective precautions you can take to significantly reduce the risk:

  • Wear a Mouthguard: If you have a habit of grinding your teeth at night, using a night-guard can provide protection against the excessive forces that can lead to cracks. For those involved in sports, a custom-made mouthguard is advisable to prevent dental injuries during physical activities.
  • Avoid Hard Objects: Be mindful of not biting or chewing on hard objects such as ice, hard candies, or other non-food items. This precaution helps protect your teeth from damage.

It's important to maintain regular dental check-ups, as your dentist can identify and address any potential issues that might increase your risk of developing cracked teeth.


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