Tooth enamel is the hardest substance in the human body. It is very protective, particularly against impacts, but even enamel can crack. Cracks often happen to a tooth when a force applied to a tooth is strong, the tooth was previously treated with a root canal , or the tooth has untreated tooth decay or existing restorations like fillings or crowns . A cracked tooth is different from a chipped tooth , and your dentist will diagnose and treat them differently.
A crack is a fracture in the tooth. They can range from obvious, visible fractures to microscopic lines that can only be seen through imaging. Unlike chips, cracks often do not result in a loss of tooth structure. Cracks may only affect the enamel (known as "craze lines"), or they may extend into the dentin layer beneath the enamel. They are typically caused by excessive forces such as biting or grinding. Cracks can occur in the tooth's clinical crown or in the tooth root , where they are more difficult to diagnose and treat.
Cracks can allow bacteria to enter and grow within the tooth's inner layers. The bacteria can lead to tooth decay and infections. Your dentist should examine all cracks to determine if treatment is necessary to prevent further damage or decay. In extreme cases, tooth removal (tooth extraction) may be necessary.
Tooth cracks may be visible or microscopic. You may not realize your tooth is cracked until your dentist diagnoses it at your next dental exam .
You should schedule an appointment with your dentist when:
Your dentist can often identify cracks visually. If your dentist suspects a microscopic crack, they will use X-ray (radiograph) images and photographs. They are also used to determine the extent of a crack and if it has impacted the nerve.
Your examination will include your dentist:
With this information, your dentist can diagnose the presence, location, and severity of the crack and determine if the crack has made your tooth more susceptible to tooth decay or infection. This will allow them to recommend a course of treatment.
Your dental insurance might not cover all situations associated with tooth injuries. This is especially true in cases of trauma. While you might end up seeing a dentist for evaluation and treatment, your course of action may need to be coordinated through a medical provider. Talk to your insurance provider, physician, and dentist to be sure you understand the provisions of your medical and dental coverage before beginning a course of treatment.
There are often temporary methods for stabilizing cracked teeth that are inexpensive and allow you time to consider more permanent options.
It is not generally recommended that you delay treatment for cracked teeth.
If you crack a tooth, make an appointment to see your dentist as soon as possible. Meanwhile, following these steps may provide temporary relief:
Depending on the location and the extent of a crack, there are a number of ways to treat your tooth. Some cracks can be easily repaired, while some may be too serious to be fixed at all. This is especially true if the crack extends into the tooth roots or to the bone level. Your dentist's goal will be to preserve as much natural tooth structure as possible and help ensure no decay or further damage will occur.
The best protection against a crack in your tooth growing larger is generally a restoration like a crown or onlay . These treatments may also require root canal therapy . Your dentist may be able to place a bonded filling that can last long enough to help you prepare for these treatments.