Teeth can break in all kinds of ways, some traumatic and some not. A tooth could get chipped in an accident, crumble from untreated decay, or even crack from the cumulative stress of unconscious or even conscious habits: for example, years of nighttime teeth grinding, pencil-chewing or ice-crunching. However, the treatment for a broken tooth has less to do with how it happened than the type of problem that has resulted. And–except in the case of an accident that’s left you with uncontrolled bleeding or symptoms of a head injury (dizziness, disorientation, etc– it’s best to go right to the dentist’s office rather than the ER. That’s where you’ll get the most skillful tooth repair.
A tooth that has cracked or split below the gum line into the root is unlikely to be salvageable. However, most broken teeth with viable roots can be saved with one of the following procedures:
- This is normally a one-visit procedure in which your dentist will restore a chip with tooth-colored composite material made of plastic resin and glass. The composite starts out as a liquid, which your dentist paints on to your broken tooth and then hardens with a curing light. Several layers of this material are often built up, to give your tooth the right translucency and shape. Best of all, even local anesthesia is not usually needed. Bonding material is fairly durable, but can itself chip over time.
- A veneer is a wafer-thin covering for the front surface of your tooth. It’s a more permanent restoration than bonding, and the procedure is more involved. A local anesthetic is usually required. First, your dentist will remove a small amount of enamel from the front of the affected tooth with a dental drill. Next, a model of the affected tooth and the teeth around it is made, using a putty-like impression material, or with a handheld digital scanner. The veneer will likely be made by a dental lab, though some dentists offer in-office veneers made with special computer-aided milling equipment. Your dentist will place a temporary veneer on your tooth while you wait for your permanent veneer to come back from the lab. Unlike bonding, veneers are considered an irreversible treatment if there is enamel removed. However, they generally last longer than bonding, and will never stain.
- The process for getting a crown is similar to getting a veneer, and also usually takes two office visits (unless the dentist can make the crown in-house). However, a crown covers the whole tooth from the gum line up and not just the front surface. Therefore, the procedure requires more tooth structure removal so that the cap will fit properly, and a local anesthetic will be necessary. After the tooth- is prepared, the dentist will make a model of your bite, send it to the lab, and give you a temporary crown. The dental porcelains used these days for making crowns (and veneers) are extremely lifelike and strong, resistant to stains, and can be expected to last for years.
A word about root canals
It is not unusual for a broken tooth to need a root canal treatment in conjunction with one of the above cosmetic/restorative procedures. A root canal may be needed when a chip or crack exposes the pulp tissue in the center of the tooth; this could create a pathway to bacterial infection (if an infection is not in fact already present). But despite all the myths, having a root canal is nothing to fear. It preserves your tooth and actually relieves dental pain.
Whatever the cause, there’s no need to go through life with a chipped tooth—make an appointment with your dentist today! Call us at 1-800-238-5163 to find out about how dental savings plans can help make quality dental care affordable.