How to Treat Cracked Teeth

In our last blog post, we discussed the condition of cracked teeth, what causes them, and what you can do to prevent them.  So what do you do if you already have one?  The treatment of a cracked tooth varies widely based on the extent of the crack.

Cracked Teeth vs. Chipped Teeth

Mouth with chipped front tooth
A chipped tooth is one that is missing a relatively small portion of tooth structure.

First, we want to distinguish between cracked teeth and chipped teeth.  A chipped tooth is one that is missing a relatively small portion of tooth structure.  Chipped teeth can be the result of clenching or grinding the teeth, an injury or accident, or biting into something extremely hard.  Chipped teeth may have sharp or jagged edges that can scratch or cut your tongue and cheeks.  It is important to replace the missing tooth structure with some type of dental restoration in order to restore the tooth to normal chewing function and protect it against cavities.

A cracked tooth, on the other hand, may not be missing any tooth structure at all.  A crack begins on the biting surface of the tooth, interrupting the single continuous layer of enamel.  Cracks can be very superficial, affecting only the outermost layer of enamel.  Typically, cracks progress more deeply into a tooth over time because of the pressure from chewing.  Severe cracks may extend into the internal nerve chamber of a tooth or down the length of its root.

Cracked Teeth: Symptomatic vs. Asymptomatic

Girl with black hair giving pained expression while holding a popsicle in her hand
With cracked teeth, you may feel sensitive to cold foods.

This distinction is an important one to discuss.  Symptomatic means that you, the patient, can feel that there is something wrong with the tooth.  It may be sensitive to cold drinks or tender when you chew on that side.  Asymptomatic means you do not notice anything unusual because it feels completely normal to you.  Some cracked teeth are totally symptom-free meaning your dentist may be the first one to notice a problem.  Not all cracked teeth hurt.

In many cases, waiting until something hurts leads to more expensive and more extensive dental treatment.

Different Treatment Options for Cracked Teeth

The treatment of cracked teeth ranges from a simple filling all the way to extraction (removal) of the entire tooth..  The reason for such a wide range is that the depth and extent of cracks ranges so widely.

Fillings

Teeth with cracks that are very superficial, affecting only enamel, respond well to tooth-colored fillings.  These fillings bond to the tooth structure, sealing out bacteria and protecting the crack from contamination by bacteria.  One of the limitations of fillings for cracked teeth is that they only restore teeth with no symptoms.

Crowns

A crown being placed on a tooth
Crowns are necessary to restore teeth with cracks that extend past the tooth’s enamel.

A dental crown covers the entire exposed portion of a tooth and replaces all of the enamel.  When a crack disrupts the continuity of enamel, the crown restores that continuity by replacing it with metal or porcelain.  Crowns are necessary to restore teeth with cracks that extend past the tooth’s enamel.  These teeth may have some sensitivity to cold and tenderness on chewing.

Root Canal Treatments & Crowns

If a cracks extends into the nerve chamber of a tooth, the tooth must have a root canal treatment.  The crack allows contamination of the closed nerve chamber, so it must be cleaned and filled with a root canal.  Root canal treatments are also necessary when the nerve inside the tooth is irreversibly inflamed and does not respond to prior treatments.

Extraction

Some cracked teeth are so severe that no treatment will save them.  A crack that extends onto the root of a tooth has a hopeless prognosis, meaning that no treatment will protect the tooth from future problems.  In cases of a hopeless prognosis, your only option is to extract the tooth.

Do You Have a Cracked Tooth?

Call today to schedule a consultation with one of our doctors.  We will assess your specific problem and discuss all of your treatment options.