It can come as quite a surprise to discover you have a cracked tooth. Perhaps you looked in the mirror one day and noticed something disturbing: A hairline crack seemed to be forming, extending from the chewing surface toward the gum line. Or possibly you had an accident that involved a blow to your mouth. You may have experienced some pain, and noticed that one of your teeth had a visible fracture. It’s even possible that you experienced no symptoms at all, but were told about a cracked tooth by your dentist. The question that comes immediately to mind is: Can a cracked tooth be saved?
The answer: It all depends. Teeth can exhibit different degrees of cracking, and can develop this problem in various locations. Whether or not it makes sense to try and save the tooth depends on how severely it is damaged, and how likely it is to respond to treatment.
For example, small chips or cracks near the chewing surface generally respond quite well to treatment—as long as they don’t extend below the gum line and don’t involve the tooth’s pulp (soft inner material). Depending on how much of the tooth is damaged, treatment could include doing nothing (if it is a surface crack only) to fillings or dental bonding; if the damage is more extensive, the tooth might need to receive a crown restoration (cap).
What if a piece of the tooth breaks off? It isn’t unusual for this to occur in the back teeth (molars), particularly if they’ve have large fillings that may have weakened their structure. A fractured cusp (prominent ridge on the tooth’s chewing surface) can sometimes be restored with bonding material or with an onlay (a type of restoration similar to a filling). Otherwise, the tooth may need to be crowned; a root canal may or may not be necessary, depending whether the pulp is affected.
A large crack or fracture in a front or back tooth is a more serious condition. If the crack extends below the gum line, your dentist will determine whether the tooth can be saved via a variety of procedures including a minor surgery or a root canal. This in turn depends on whether the tooth’s root is in good shape. However, if the root is in poor condition, if the crack extends much below the gum line, or if the tooth is split into separate parts, it may not be worthwhile to try saving it. In this case, extraction is the best option, followed by tooth replacement. The outlook is the same for root fractures—cracks that start at the bottom of a tooth’s roots and work their way up. Unless teeth are subjected to sudden trauma, these conditions generally develop over time; yet appropriate and timely treatment can often prevent a minor crack from getting worse. That’s why it is important to visit your dentist as soon as you suspect that you may have a cracked tooth.
What’s even better than timely treatment? Prevention! It isn’t always possible to protect teeth from developing cracks, but there are several things you can do to help. Avoid bad habits that can damage teeth, like chewing on pens, ice cubes or other hard items. Seek treatment for teeth grinding or clenching, and use a night guard if needed. And don’t forget to wear a custom-made mouthguard when your sports or leisure activities carry the risk of damaging your teeth. Call us at 1-800-238-5163 to find out about how dental savings plans can help make quality dental care affordable.