If you experience a cracked tooth, you can have such symptoms from pain when you chew food to pain and sensitivity when your tooth is exposed to hot or cold temperatures. If you think you may have a crack in your tooth, it is important to see a dentist as soon as possible. The earlier the crack is diagnosed, the more likely it is treatable and can be prevented from further spreading. In this article, you will learn about the symptoms of a cracked tooth, its causes, the different types of cracks that may occur in a tooth, and what treatment options a dentist recommends to fix it.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of a cracked tooth can vary depending on the type of crack and how severe it is. Sometimes, it can exist without any symptoms and you don’t even realize you have one. But this is not always true. The main symptoms include:
- Pain when chewing or biting. The pain may come and go and is especially felt during chewing and biting on something. You can notice that when you bite down and release your bite.
- Sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures or sweets. Depending on the extent of the crack and whether the pulp of your tooth is exposed, you may experience sensitivity. This tingling sensation of sensitivity may look like a sharp nerve reaction which can be accompanied by a throbbing pain. Sensitivity occurs once you eat or drink hot or cold foods and beverages as well as with eating sweets.
- Intermittent pain. The pain associated with a cracked tooth is hardly a continuous one. The pain comes and goes and is triggered by biting or with heat or cold temperatures, as we said. However, you may even have this intermittent pain without any triggers or pressure on your tooth depending on how much the pulp is exposed and damaged.
- Swelling of the gum. Gum swelling is a symptom of an underlying infection in your tooth. Due to the crack, bacteria have penetrated the pulp. Your dental pulp has become infected, so you will have swelling in the gum around the affected tooth.
What are the causes of a cracked tooth?
Cracks or fractures in a tooth can be the result of many risk factors. They may appear suddenly or due to gradual wear and tear. Here are the main causes of cracking in a tooth:
- Biting down on hard foods, ice, or hard objects
- Teeth grinding habits or bruxism—which is the habitual jaw clenching and grinding teeth at night
- Traumatic injuries to the mouth and teeth which can occur during an unexpected fall, a car accident, or a sports activity
- Eating or drinking something extremely hot or cold which causes a sudden temperature change in the mouth and thus cracking of a tooth
- Age, in which teeth can wear down and the enamel will become more susceptible to injury, leading to cracked teeth in older individuals
What are the types of tooth cracks?
There are different types of fractures or cracks that occur in a tooth. Dentists will normally classify cracked teeth as follows:
Craze lines (hairline cracks)
These are small and shallow cracks in the outer enamel of the tooth. They are painless and they are not a cause of concern. However, depending on its size, the crack can be a site where plaque accumulates resulting in staining or decay.
Treatment is usually not required, but cosmetic dentistry can enhance the appearance. Your dentist can polish it away or hide the imperfection using common treatments like bonding or porcelain veneers.
This is a crack that extends vertically from the chewing surface down. The crack still hasn’t separated the tooth into pieces, but if not treated, it can progress.
If the crack hasn’t reached the gum line but it is affecting the pulp, it can be treatable. However, if the crack extends below the gum line and into the root, the tooth cannot be saved and may need to be extracted.
Once the cracked tooth extends below the gum line, it may cause the tooth to be separated into two parts. This is when a split tooth has occurred, which is often less likely to save the tooth.
But depending on the size and position of the crack, your dentist may treat the damaged portion of the tooth and help restore it with endodontic treatment.
A fractured cusp is when part of the chewing surface (cusp) of a tooth breaks off and chips. This is a crack that most of the time occurs around a dental filling, which can be repaired with a new filling or dental crown.
You don’t usually feel pain as fractured cusp barely damages the pulp—the soft tissue inside a tooth with nerves and blood vessels.
Vertical root fracture
This type of crack begins below the gum line from the root of the tooth and extends up toward the upper part of the tooth. It may first show no symptoms and go unnoticed. But the infected tooth can cause symptoms of infection like swelling in the surrounding gum and the bone.
Treatment for cracked teeth
Your dentist or endodontist will recommend the treatment for you based on the type, location, and severity of the crack in your tooth. Treatment for a cracked tooth can be one or more of the following:
Composite bonding is the least invasive and the easiest treatment in which your dentist restores the tooth using composite resin. The tooth-colored composite material is used to fill and seal the crack. Additionally, if any parts of the tooth is chipped and broken, the composite bonding fills and reshapes it back to normal function.
A dental crown can be placed over your cracked tooth to protect it. They are made of strong materials like porcelain or metal, allowing to provide maximum protection on a cracked or chipped tooth.
The process of getting a crown can take some weeks. Your dentist should first prepare your tooth and take an impression of your teeth to send it to the dental lab where your customized crown is made. This is all done in the initial appointment.
You then wait 2 to 3 weeks until the crown is ready to be placed. In your second appointment, the dentist will cement the crown over your tooth.
A veneer is a thin, tooth-like covering that is attached to the front surface of a tooth that has some defects on it. Porcelain veneers are a cosmetic option for when the crack is minor only affecting visible front teeth.
So, if you are cosmetically concerned about your look, porcelain veneers have a high stain-resistant feature and a natural-looking appearance to give you a beautiful smile that lasts for years.
If the crack extends into the pulp of your tooth, your dentist or an endodontist will need to do a root canal procedure to prevent further weakening and worsening of the tooth.
Root canal involves removal of the damaged pulp. It is a necessary procedure to clear your tooth out of infection and avoid serious dental issues like a dental abscess. Your dentist will then most likely cap the tooth with a crown or repair it with a filling.
Lastly, if your tooth is so badly fractured in a way that it cannot be saved, removing it is the only option. Your dentist will extract the tooth, let the area heal, and place a dental implant if you like. Implants last a lifetime and help improve your oral and dental health greatly.
It is important to see your dentist once you have a dental injury. If left untreated, cracks can lead to serious dental problems. More fracture, infection, and ultimately the loss of a tooth are all possible outcomes.
Remember to have a good dental hygiene practice to protect your teeth against decay, cavities, and of course cracks. Although a cracked tooth is a common dental issue, you can help avoid it from occurring in the first place. Make sure your smile and teeth are healthier and safer by avoiding hard foods, cutting down on sweets, and, if you are a teeth grinder, wearing a mouthguard.