Just as your bones can fracture, your teeth can crack when put under excess pressure or when hit against something. If you've bit down on something hard or been involved in a car accident and think you might have a cracked tooth, read on to learn more about this injury, what it entails, and how your dentist may go about repairing it.
What happens when a tooth cracks?
Teeth can crack to various depths. A shallow crack may extend only through the enamel—the outermost layer—of your tooth. A somewhat deeper crack may reach into the dentin layer, which is located just beneath the enamel. Cracks at these depths are not overly serious as they don't disturb the sensitive, living tissues located deeper in the tooth. The deepest cracks, on the other hand, do extend into this tissue, which is known as the tooth pulp and contains nerves and blood vessels.
You can't always tell by looking at crack how deep it extends. For instance, a crack may appear very small, but it may be very deep. Another crack might look wide, but it may only be very shallow.
What are the symptoms of a cracked tooth?
If you crack a tooth all of the way down to the pulp layer, you may experience pretty pronounced pain when the tooth cracks. You'll also feel pain when you bite down on something or press on the tooth. Drinking hot and cold liquids can be excruciating.
Some shallower cracks don't cause any pain at all. But others do cause sensitivity to hot and cold, and perhaps some pain when you bite down. Even if you do not see a crack, you should contact your dentist if you have these symptoms after biting into something hard, getting into an accident, or hitting your head or mouth against something. Cracks can be located on the surfaces between teeth or they can be thin and hard to see with the naked eye.
How will your dentist treat your cracked tooth?
Before your dentist treats the crack, he or she will need to take some X-rays to examine its depth. If the crack is shallow and only affect the enamel or the enamel and the dentin, then it may be treated much like a cavity. Any damaged tooth tissue will be filed away, and a composite resin material (which is tooth colored) will be injected into the gap and allowed to harden.
If the crack reaches the pulp of the tooth, then treatment gets more complicated. If you did not seek treatment immediately, there's a good chance the pulp of the tooth is either infected or likely to become infected soon. So antibiotics may be prescribed. Your dentist may then perform what is called a root canal procedure, which involves removing the tooth pulp. This renders the tooth "dead," but allows it to remain in the mouth.
Usually, after a root canal, you'll need to have a crown placed over the damaged tooth. Crowns can be made from porcelain, metal, or composite resin, and they essentially cover the entire tooth. They prevent the tooth from cracking any further when you bite down and chew. Your dentist will likely measure your tooth for a crown on the day your root canal or other initial treatment is performed. The crown will be made in a lab and then cemented to your tooth a few days later.
If you think you've cracked a tooth, don't panic. Until you're able to see the dentist, you can keep pain at bay by taking over-the-counter pain relievers and applying numbing gel to the sore area. Don't hesitate to seek treatment, however, as decay can set in quickly in a cracked tooth. To learn more, contact resources like Tony Parsley, DMD.