A chipped tooth occurs when a section of a tooth has fractured away from the body. It can range from a severe crack along the surface or a lesser chip on the edge of the body. Both are equally dangerous to the structure of your tooth because they practically do the same thing; weaken it and expose the nerve.
Unless the damage is a minor chip, there’s no permanent way to fix it without seeing a dentist. The best thing you can do in the meantime is to address the pain and protect your tooth and the inside of your mouth to avoid further injury.
Causes of chipped teeth
There are many reasons for chipped teeth include:
- biting down on hard substances, like ice or hard candy
- falls or car accidents
- playing contact sports without a mouthguard
- grinding your teeth when you sleep
Risk factors for chipped teeth
It makes sense that weakened teeth are more likely to chip than strong teeth. Some things that reduce the strength of a tooth include:
- Tooth decay and cavities eat away at the enamel. Large fillings also tend to weaken teeth.
- Teeth grinding can wear down enamel.
- Eating a lot of acid-producing foods, such as fruit juices, coffee, and spicy foods can break down enamel and leave the surface of teeth exposed.
- Acid reflux or heartburn, two digestive conditions, can bring stomach acid up into your mouth, where they can damage tooth enamel.
- Eating disorders or excessive alcohol use can cause frequent vomiting, which in turn can produce enamel-eating acid.
- Sugar produces bacteria in your mouth, and that bacteria can attack the enamel.
- Tooth enamel wears down over time, so if you’re 50 years or older, your risk of having weakened enamel increases. In one study published in the Journal of Endodontics, nearly two-thirds of those with cracked teeth were over 50.
Which teeth are at risk?
Any weakened tooth is at risk. But one study shows that the second lower molar — possibly because it takes a fair amount of pressure when chewing — and teeth with fillings are most prone to chipping. That being said, intact teeth are also subject to chipping.
Symptoms of a chipped tooth
If the chip is minor and not at the front of your mouth, you may not know you have it at all. When you do have symptoms, however, they may include:
- feeling a jagged surface when you run your tongue over your teeth
- irritation of the gum around the chipped tooth.
What to do if you chip or break a tooth
While doctors don’t advise home fixes for broken teeth, there are some things you can do to protect your tooth and mouth.
What to do after you break a tooth
If you break or chip a tooth, you should rinse your mouth with warm water right away to clean it, according to the American Dental Association (ADA). Apply pressure to stop any bleeding, and place a cold compress on the area to reduce swelling.
If you can find the piece of a broken tooth, wrap it in wet gauze and bring it with you to the dentist.
What to do if you lose a tooth
If the tooth has popped out of your mouth, use a gauze pad to grasp it by the crown and place it back into the socket if possible.
If the tooth looks dirty, you can rinse it off with water. Don’t scrub it or clean it with any other solution, and don’t clean off any bits of tissue.
If you can’t get it into the socket, you can place it in a glass of milk, saline solution, or water. Try to get to the dentist within 30 minutes.
Chipped tooth pain relief
Flush the inside of your mouth with warm water, and apply cold compresses to the outside area every few minutes to keep down the swelling.
You can take over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers and anti-inflammatories, but make sure you don’t take more than the recommended dosage.
You can also apply clove oil to the area. The oil contains eugenol, a numbing agent with anti-inflammatory properties.
How to protect your mouth until you see a dentist
If your tooth has a small chip and a jagged edge, you can apply dental wax over the edge to keep it from slicing your tongue or damaging your mouth. This isn’t recommended if you have a large chip or a section of the tooth is missing, as you could break off more of the tooth by flossing.
Many drugstores carry OTC temporary kits that contain dental wax.
Avoid chewing on the side with the damaged tooth, and try flossing around the tooth to reduce pressure and irritation.
Injuries that need treatment and those that don’t
The most common teeth to break are the molars of the lower jaw, probably due to their pointy cusps grinding powerfully into the grooves of the molars at the top of the mouth, according to a 2015 articleTrusted Source published in the European Journal of Dentistry.
However, any tooth can break with injuries that range from slight cosmetic damage to serious injuries. Deep cracks can run down to the root or from the tooth’s center to the pulp chamber, which contains nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissue.
Cracks may not be visible, hiding inside the tooth or below the gum. Some cracks and chips have no symptoms or symptoms that may be confused for cavities, sensitivity, or periodontal disease.
In general, the deeper and wider the damage, the more extensive the treatment needed. A dentist can diagnose the extent of the damage by examining the tooth with or without a magnifying glass, performing a bite test, and sometimes using dental X-rays.
Cracks that might not need treatment
Not every crack or chip is serious enough to warrant treatment, and some are quite common. For instance, craze lines are small cracks that occur in the enamel only and are common, according to a 2014 review of the literature Trusted Source.
Cracks that need to be seen by a dentist
You’ll likely need to see a dentist for anything but the smallest cracks or chips because it’s hard to tell how deep the damage might be.
There are no effective home remedies to prevent further injury to your teeth and mouth, and the sharp edges of a cracked tooth could cut your soft tissues, causing more pain, infection, and potentially costlier treatment.
In some cases, untreated damage could lead to a root canal, tooth loss, or other complications due to infection.
Cracks that need to be treated quickly
While you can wait until an appointment for many types of tooth injuries, others may require emergency treatment.
If you knock out a tooth, for instance, the ADA advises that you may be able to save it if you can find it, put it back in the socket, and visit your dentist right away. It’s also considered an emergency if you’re bleeding heavily or are in a lot of pain.
Protection with a temporary tooth repair kit
Temporary broken tooth repair kits are available in drugstores and online and can be helpful while waiting to see a dentist.
Some kits include dental wax to cover jagged edges, and others contain material that can be molded into the shape of a tooth to fill in gaps left on broken or missing teeth.
These kits are only for temporary use and don’t address the deeper issues that could lead to infection, tooth loss, or other complications. They should not be substituted for proper dental care.
Chipped or broken tooth repair methods
Treatment will depend on how big the crack or break is and where it is. Possible treatments include:
- the root canal and crown placement
- tooth extraction and implant placement
Surface lines and tiny cracks may not require treatment, but a 2019 study trusted Source indicated that cavities, a lot of pain, and X-ray evidence of a crack we’re all strong predictors that endodontists would perform restorative procedures.
If the damage is slight, a dentist may polish the surface or smooth a broken or jagged edge. This is called cosmetic contouring. They may also use dental bonding to fill in gaps and fissures.
In bonding, dentists slightly abrade the tooth, dab on a conditioning liquid, and then apply tooth-colored composite resin. Afterward, they’ll form it into the right shape. The dentist can also sometimes reattach a broken bit of tooth.
These procedures can often be done in a single visit.
Filling with possible root canal
A crack or chip that goes deeper than the surface will need more extensive repair. Sometimes, the crack extends down into the pulp, which may require a root canal.
During the procedure, an endodontist removes the inflamed or infected pulp, sanitizes the inside of the tooth, and fills and seals it with a rubbery material called gutta-percha. Afterward, they’ll cap it with a filling or a crown.
While the root canal is a metaphor for all that’s dreadful and distressing, this procedure is much more routine and far less painful than it once was — now, it’s usually no more painful than getting a filling.
Molars have more than one root. If only one root is fractured, a root amputation can be done to save the rest of the tooth. This is called a hemisection. A root canal and crown have to be done on the remaining tooth.
Your endodontist may also recommend surgery to find cracks or hidden canals not caught on X-rays or remove calcium deposits from a previous root canal.
Sometimes, a root canal won’t save a tooth. For many endodontists, the depth of the crack determines how likely they are to recommend extraction. A 2019 study trusted Source found that the deeper the crack, the more likely the endodontists were to extract the tooth.
In the case of a split tooth, 98.48 percent of endodontists in the study chose to extract. A dentist may also suggest extraction if the crack extends below the gum line.
If you do have a tooth extraction, your provider is likely to recommend an implant that looks and functions like a natural tooth.
- irritation of your tongue from “catching” it on the tooth’s uneven and rough edge
- pain from pressure on the tooth when biting, which can be intense if the chip is near to or exposes the nerves of the tooth
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