Cracking a Smile: Restorative Dental Solutions for a Cracked Tooth
Teeth crack more often than you might think. A tooth can crack when you bite down on something hard, get hit in the mouth, or clench your teeth at night. Cracks range in severity, with minor cracks being little more than a cosmetic issue and more serious cracks posing a major threat to your overall dental health.
To be safe, you should always make an appointment with your dentist immediately if you suspect you have cracked a tooth. Here’s a look at the restorative dental procedures used most often to fix cracked teeth—and what you can do about the crack while you’re awaiting your appointment.
Caring for the Cracked Tooth
When you call to schedule your appointment, your dentist will likely ask you a few questions to get a better idea of how severe the crack is. Then, based on your answers, the dentist may either ask to see you immediately or schedule an appointment within the next few days.
In the meantime, the measures you take to protect the cracked tooth can affect your final outcome. If the tooth is bleeding, your dentist will probably want to see you immediately. Before you leave the house, rinse your mouth with warm water and apply pressure with a piece of gauze to stop the bleeding. Apply an ice pack to the outside of the cheek near the cracked tooth to help ease the pain.
If you have a smaller crack and your appointment is a day or two away, there are a few ways you can keep the cracked area safe, protected, and comfortable in the meantime:
- Chew on the opposite side of your mouth.
- Stick to softer foods, and avoid foods that are overly sugary or sticky.
- Rinse your mouth out with salt water after every meal. This measure helps prevent infections.
- Take an over-the-counter pain reliever, like ibuprofen, if your tooth starts aching.
- Avoid overly hot or cold foods and beverages.
If the pain becomes unbearable, don’t hesitate to call your dentist back and see if the office has an earlier appointment available.
Restorative Dental Procedures for Cracked Teeth
When you arrive for your appointment, your dentist will examine your tooth and perhaps take X-rays to determine the severity of the crack. Then, the dentist will suggest one of these treatment options.
Minor cracks that barely extend through the enamel are often treated like cavities. Your dentist drills away the damaged enamel and then uses a hard restorative material to fill in the hole. If the crack is in a visible area, your dentist will likely recommend filling it with composite resin since it’s the same color as your tooth. Your mouth will be numbed with a local anesthetic during this procedure, so you should not feel a thing other than vibrations from the drill.
Cracks that are somewhat larger and deeper can threaten the integrity of the tooth. Your dentist may be worried that if you bite down on something hard again, the crack will grow even larger. In this case, it’s usually recommended that you have the tooth covered with a crown.
If your dentist decides you need a crown, he or she will have you bite into a mold to determine the exact size and shape of the damaged tooth. This mold will be sent off to a lab and used to make your crown. A temporary crown will be applied to protect your tooth, and you’ll return to the dentist a week or so later to have the permanent crown put in place.
If the crack extends all of the way into the pulp of your tooth, exposing the nerve and blood vessels, your dentist may recommend a root canal procedure in order to prevent infections. This is a treatment in which the pulp of the tooth is removed, the space left behind is sealed, and your tooth is then covered in a crown to protect it from further damage.
Root canals have the bad reputation of being painful, but in fact, you should not feel any pain during the procedure since local anesthetics are used. The process may require two or three appointments over the span of a few weeks.
Extraction and Replacement
If the tooth is so badly cracked that your dentist feels it won’t stay in one piece even when covered with a crown, then the best option is usually to have it extracted, or removed. Your mouth will be numbed, and the tooth will be removed from your jaw. You may have some bleeding and discomfort in the days that follow, but sticking to soft foods and taking over-the-counter pain relievers should keep the pain manageable.
Once you’ve healed from the extraction, your dentist will likely recommend having the missing tooth replaced with an implant. The implant itself is a metal screw that is placed into your jaw bone and capped with a crown, or false tooth. Dental implants look completely natural, and once you’ve healed from the procedure, nobody other than you and your dentist will be able to tell that the implant is not a real tooth.
If you crack a tooth, don’t delay seeking treatment from a restorative dentist. A deep crack that exposes the tooth pulp can easily lead to an infection, which can have serious consequences if not handled promptly.