Cracked Teeth - All Cracks Are Not Equal

Cracked Teeth- All Cracks Are Not Equal


As people are living longer and keeping their teeth longer, cracked teeth are becoming more and more common.  Teeth are made up of hard crystalline structures and can develop cracks for a number of reasons.  First, as teeth age, they become susceptible to cracking from years of chewing. Cracks also occur due to trauma such as a sports injury, bad habits like chewing on ice, grinding or clenching the teeth, and thermal cycling between eating hot and cold foods or drinks.  Also, teeth that have existing fillings are more likely to develop cracks since the remaining tooth structure is thinner and weaker.

Some cracks are superficial and develop no symptoms over time.  Others start out as minor cracks but progressively worsen with time and can become painful.  Sometimes cracks are severe from the start.  As cracks worsen, symptoms such as sensitivity to biting and temperature are common and even a tooth ache can develop.

Cracks usually don’t show up on x-rays so it can be challenging to judge the depth and severity of the crack.  Some methods we use to analyze the extent of the fractures include biting tests, feeling the tooth surface for a separation of tooth structure, shining a light through the tooth, and evaluating the length of the crack on the tooth surface or under an existing filling.

Cracks can often be prevented.  For patients that grind their teeth, wearing a mouth guard at night helps protect the teeth.  Being careful to not chew ice, hard foods such as candy or popcorn kernels will reduce the chances for causing a crack.  For those who play contact sports, it is paramount to wear an athletic mouth guard to protect the teeth from trauma.  Foods that are extreme in temperature like hot coffee or cold ice cream can cause cracks to develop over time, especially in those who consume such products on a regular basis.

Once a crack is present, it is critical to get the appropriate treatment as soon as possible.  If the crack is superficial and non-symptomatic, treatment may not be indicated.  A photo can be taken of the tooth to help determine if the crack is worsening over time.  If the crack is deep or symptomatic, then usually a crown is used to restore the tooth and prevent further fracturing.  When a crack gets deeper into the tooth, it may irritate the nerve and require root canal treatment.  Ultimately, if a tooth breaks due to a deep crack, the tooth may need to be extracted. 

When a crown is placed on a cracked tooth, it helps strengthen the tooth and helps prevent further fracturing.  However, a crown does not guarantee that the tooth can be saved forever.  Should the crack worsen or bacteria enter the tooth through the crack, the tooth may need a root canal or extraction. 

The most important part of treating a cracked tooth is early diagnosis, eliminating the cause of the crack and appropriately restoring the tooth.  In most cases, a cracked tooth can be saved with appropriate and timely treatment.  The longer a crack goes untreated, the more risk there is for tooth loss.

If you are concerned you might have a cracked tooth or have questions about how to prevent cracks from forming, please contact our office at 937-434-8870 or [email protected]

The Almoney and Brown Dental Team