Fractured Tooth (Cracked Tooth): What Are The Causes of This Dental Emergency?

What causes teeth to break, and what is the definition of a fractured tooth? How can our Edmonton dentists treat cracked or fractured teeth? We answer these questions in today's posts. 

What is a fractured tooth?

While our teeth are durable, they're not unbreakable; from chewing on hard foods to changes in our mouths as we age, various factors can contribute to cracked or fractured teeth.

Often referred to as a cracked tooth or cracked tooth syndrome (CTS), a fractured tooth occurs when a crack appears in your tooth. Sometimes, these cracks can be small and harmless. But other cracks may cause your tooth to split or break. 

In today's post, we'll explore some causes of cracked and fractured teeth and what can be done to prevent and treat them. 

What causes teeth to crack?

Anyone can crack a tooth, but tooth fractures are most common in children and older adults. Teeth can crack due to a variety of causes, including:

  • Blows to the mouth, such as might occur with a fall, sports injury, fist fight or car accident 
  • Biting or chewing on hard foods, such as hard candy, nuts or ice 
  • Pressure due to teeth grinding
  • Sudden changes in the temperature in the mouth - for instance, from eating something extremely hot, then drinking ice water to cool your mouth
  • Fillings so large the integrity of the tooth is weakened 
  • Age (most teeth fractures occur in people older than 50)

Types of Cracked Teeth

There are different types of tooth fractures, and they are differentiated by where they occur on the tooth. Cracks can appear as:

Cracks That Extend Into the Gum Line

Some teeth have vertical cracks extending through them that haven't reached the gum line. While these teeth are generally salvageable, they may need to be extracted if the crack extends to the gum line. The most likely chance at saving the tooth is to get treatment early. 

Vertical Root Fracture

This type of crack starts below the gum line and makes its way upward. While it often doesn't produce many symptoms, chances are the tooth will have to be extracted. Infection is possible. 

Fractured Cusp

This type of crack typically occurs around a dental filling and doesn't usually impact the tooth pulp (the soft centre of the tooth that contains blood vessels, connective tissue and nerves). Therefore, it does not usually cause much pain.

Craze Lines

These tiny hairline cracks in the enamel (the tooth's strong outer covering( cause no pain and don't need to be treated. 

Split Tooth

This crack extends from a tooth's surface to below the gum line, and can be separated into two segments. While it's unlikely the tooth can be saved with such an extensive crack, your dentist may be able to save part of the tooth. 

What are symptoms of a cracked tooth? 

While not every cracked tooth will lead to symptoms, when symptoms do occur, they are often as follows:

  • Swollen gums around the affected tooth 
  • Pain when biting or chewing, especially when you release a bite 
  • Sensitivity to sweetness, hot or cold temperatures
  • Intermittent pain 

How are cracked or fractured teeth diagnosed?

Not everyone with a cracked tooth will display typical symptoms. To help diagnose a cracked tooth, your dentist will likely:

  • Inquire about your dental history, such as whether you eat a lot of hard foods or grind your teeth 
  • Visually examine your tooth (your dentist may use a magnifying lens to spot tiny cracks) 
  • Feel for the crack using a dental explorer, running it around a tooth to determine whether it it will "catch" on an edge
  • Use a dental dye to make cracks stand out 
  • Look closely at your gums for inflammation - especially helpful when looking for vertical cracks, which can cause gum irritation 
  • X-ray your teeth, which won't necessarily reveal the crack but can highlight poor pulp health, which can point to a crack being present

How is a cracked tooth treated?

When a tooth cracks or breaks, it can be quite painful. But even if you're not experiencing any pain, it's best to go to a dental office as soon as possible so one of our dentists in Edmonton can help prevent or reduce pain. They may also be able to help you avoid infection of the tooth's inner pulp or tooth decay. 

Not having these problems treated early will only cause them to worsen. Most of the time, broken teeth can be repaired by:

  • Reattaching the broken piece of tooth
  • Placing a crown over the fractured tooth 
  • Performing a root canal
  • Performing an extraction (if the nerves and root of the tooth are severely damaged)

Sometimes, a dentist may recommend not repairing a broken tooth at all, particularly if the fracture does not cause pain, impact your appearance or extend very deep or far into the tooth or gum. 

How can I prevent a cracked or fractured tooth?

While not every tooth fracture can be prevented,  you can reduce the risk of one occurring by avoiding chewing ice or hard foods, taking good care of your teeth and gums, and wearing a mouth guard to avoid teeth grinding at night or when you play sports. 

Do you suspect you may have a cracked or fractured tooth? Contact our Edmonton dentists right away. We can examine the problem and recommend treatment options.

Have a dental emergency in Edmonton? We're here on weekends and after hours to help.

Dental emergencies always happen when you least expect them. Our friendly and experienced dental team is on call to assist you when you need us most.

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