A fracture in a tooth is more common in young children and seniors, although anyone can crack a tooth. This article covers what causes a tooth fracture, the symptoms, treatment options and how dental emergency can help. Let’s get started.
What is a tooth fracture?
A fractured tooth is also known as cracked tooth syndrome (CTS) and refers to when a crack appears in a tooth. Sometimes the crack may be small and harmless.
In contrast, it can cause a tooth to split or break. If you suspect you have cracked your tooth, you may wonder if you have a dental emergency.
There is no straightforward answer. Generally, a fracture in a tooth is an immediate dental emergency when it’s bleeding profusely or has a lot of pain. However, it’s best to contact an emergency dentist immediately, as the sooner you get treatment, the more chance the dentist can repair the cracked tooth. Most dentists keep appointment slots free in their schedule for patients requiring urgent dental care.
Which parts of a tooth can crack?
As you probably know, a tooth consists of two parts:
- The crown – the visible part above the gums
- The root – the invisible part below the gums
The crown and the root both have several layers:
- Enamel – the hard white outer surface
- Dentin – the layer beneath the enamel
- Pulp – the soft tissue at the centre of the tooth containing nerves and blood vessels
A tooth fracture can affect all or some of these layers. Treatment for a fractured tooth depends on the location of the crack and its severity.
What causes a fracture in a tooth?
Many things can cause a tooth to fracture. However, the most common reasons include the following:
- Biting hard foods such as ice, boiled sweets or popcorn
- Habits such as biting the fingernails and gum chewing
- Trauma – including sports injuries, car accidents, bike accidents, falls, and physical violence
- Decay that weakens a tooth
- Root canal treatment or large dental fillings that weaken the tooth
- Teeth grinding (bruxism)
Which teeth are the most likely to fracture?
Cracks and fractures commonly occur in the upper front teeth and the molars at the back of the jaw. While people are more likely to fracture one tooth, a more severe accident could result in multiple fractured teeth and a dental emergency. People with dental cavities are more at risk of fracture, even with less severe trauma.
What symptoms indicate a fractured tooth?
Cracked tooth syndrome doesn’t always cause symptoms. When it does, the main symptoms are:
- Sensitivity to changes in temperature or consuming sweet food
- Intermittent pain, mainly when chewing
- Toothache when biting or chewing
- Swelling around the tooth
A fractured tooth may not cause pain when it breaks, although you may feel a sharp area near the tooth. If a large tooth area has broken away, a nerve might be exposed, causing pain.
Fracture in tooth – diagnosis
A dentist will review your dental history and ask whether you grind your teeth or have a habit of eating hard foods or crunching on ice. After that, they will:
- Examine your mouth to see if your tooth is broken or knocked out
- Get you to bite down on a small stick to see if you have pain
- Inspect the teeth for crack lines
- Examine the gums for signs of inflammation, as vertical fractures can cause irritation
- Use a powerful beam of light to see if there is a fracture (transillumination)
- Take an X-ray or 3D scan to view any fractures or cracks
- Place a staining dye on the tooth to see the fracture more easily
- Use a periodontal probe to check if it gets caught on a crack
What are the types of tooth fractures?
Tooth fractures fall into five categories, as follows:
- Craze lines – These hairline cracks appear on the outer tooth enamel and don’t cause pain.
- Cracked tooth – Refers to a crack running vertically from the biting surface of a tooth to the gum line.
- Split tooth – This crack extends from the tooth surface to below the gum line and can split the tooth into two halves.
- Fractured cusp – This occurs when a crack forms around a dental filling and is usually painless.
- Vertical root fracture – When a crack starts below the gum line and travels towards the tooth’s biting surface, it’s a vertical root fracture and may not present symptoms unless the tooth becomes infected.
Can I treat a fractured tooth at home?
A person can do nothing at home to treat a cracked tooth apart from managing the pain. While you are waiting to see an emergency dentist, steps you can take include:
- Taking over-the-counter medications such as Ibuprofen and Paracetamol to ease the pain
- Rinsing your mouth regularly with warm salt water to clean and disinfect the area
- Placing an ice pack or cold compress on the outside of your mouth to reduce swelling
How can an emergency dentist help?
The goal of a dental emergency appointment for a fractured tooth is to protect the tooth and the inner dental pulp. The treatment you receive depends on the severity of the damage. The options may include the following:
- A root canal if the pulp is infected
- Removal of the fractured portion
- Dental crown
- Dental veneer
- Tooth extraction
The dentist will discuss all the appropriate options and help to choose what’s best for you. Sometimes they may recommend not fixing a fractured tooth if it doesn’t affect your appearance, isn’t hurting, and does not extend very far or deep, such as with a hairline crack.
Is it possible to prevent a fracture in a tooth?
It’s not possible to prevent every tooth fracture. However, the following good dental habits can reduce the risk of CTS:
- Maintain good oral health with daily brushing and flossing
- Visit your dentist or regular check-ups
- Wear a custom mouthguard if you grind your teeth at night or play contact sorts
- Avoid chewing ice and hard foods
If you suspect you have a tooth fracture, while it’s not necessarily an immediate dental emergency, it’s best to have it checked out as soon as you can by an emergency dentist. Call our experienced dental team at a No Gaps dental clinic near you or by calling us on (02) 8007 6727 today.
Note: Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. Before proceeding, you should seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified health practitioner.
The Irish Times – Dentists report surge in teeth grinding and cracking due to pandemic stress
Digital Doc – How transillumination works
Sbu.se – Methods of Diagnosis and Treatment in Endodontics