Teeth are remarkably strong but they can chip, crack (fracture) or break. This can happen in several ways:
- Biting down on something hard
- Being hit in the face or mouth
- Having cavities that weaken the tooth
When a tooth chips or breaks it may not always hurt, especially with minor tooth fractures, but if a large piece of the tooth breaks away it can cause severe pain and discomfort. Pain from a broken tooth may be constant, may come and go or may only be felt when chewing as this puts pressure on the tooth
What You Can Do
If you have a broken tooth you should see your dentist as soon as possible so they can determine if the break was caused by cavities and if the tooth’s nerve is in danger. A damaged nerve will generally cause root canal treatment.
Until you see the dentist you can do the following:
- Rinse your mouth well with warm water.
- Apply pressure with a piece of gauze on any bleeding areas for about 10 minutes or until the bleeding stops. If this doesn’t work, use a tea bag with pressure on the area to stop the bleeding.
- Apply a cold pack to the cheek or lips over the broken tooth. This will help reduce swelling and relieve pain.
- If you can’t get to your dentist right away, cover the part of the tooth that is in your mouth with temporary dental cement. You can find this at a pharmacy or drugstore.
- Take an over-the-counter pain reliever.
There are several types of tooth fractures and breaks, each of which requires different treatments. These include:
Minor Cracks: These are surface cracks that affect only the outer surface of the tooth, the enamel. Minor cracks rarely need treatment however your dentist may lightly polish the area to smooth any rough areas.
Chips: Minor chips don’t always need treatment. Your dentist may suggest repairing the damage with filling material to prevent it from getting worse or to make the tooth look and feel better. If the chip is very small, the dentist may polish and smooth out the chipped area.
Cracked Tooth: This type of fracture involves the whole tooth, from the chewing surface all the way down to the nerve. The pieces remain in place but the crack gradually spreads. Cracks can sometimes be repaired with filling material but the tooth often needs a crown to prevent the crack from getting worse. If the pulp (nerve and other live tissues) is damaged you may also need root canal treatment.
Serious Breaks: These breaks go deep enough to expose the nerve. They almost always cause the tooth to hurt and be sensitive and usually the broken part of the tooth will bleed. You will need root canal treatment to remove the exposed nerve and probably a crown to restore the tooth to normal function so you can eat and chew properly.
Decay-Induced Break: In this case, the tooth has broken or crumbled because a cavity weakened it from the inside out. Your dentist will evaluate the cavity and recommend the best way to restore the tooth. In some cases, if the decay is extensive and goes down to the bone,the tooth may have to be removed.