Tooth enamel may be the hardest material in the body, but teeth can still crack under pressure. Cracks in teeth can expose the softer inner layers of teeth to bacteria and may even lead to tooth loss without treatment. More severe injuries could see you losing a tooth altogether.
A cracked tooth isn't always a dental emergency, but you should still visit your dentist for a professional opinion and to find out how they can repair your damaged tooth. Your dentist might also be able to reattach a tooth or discuss other treatments to restore your smile.
Why do teeth crack?
Teeth can crack for many reasons. Healthy teeth can crack suddenly when they're injured. Teeth that have been weakened over time by decay, grinding or exposure to acid may be damaged more easily by minor impacts.
Common causes of teeth cracks include:
- biting hard foods or other objects, such as ice cubes
- sporting injuries (especially if you don't wear a mouthguard)
- car accidents
- slips and falls
- grinding or clenching teeth
- large fillings that weaken the underlying tooth
- teeth being exposed to sudden changes in temperature
Is a cracked tooth an emergency?
A cracked or fractured tooth is always a cause for concern, as even if you don't feel immediate pain, there could be complications such as infections.
If you notice that your tooth is cracked, you should contact an emergency dentist near you. When you phone your dental clinic, they'll ask about your symptoms, give you advice for how to relieve any pain or discomfort and let you know if you need to see a dentist urgently.
Even a small crack can expose the soft inside of your tooth (the pulp) to bacteria, which could lead to a tooth pulp infection or dental abscess, so it's important to see a dentist as soon as possible. In the meantime, try to avoid putting the tooth under pressure by eating on the other side of your mouth and avoiding hard, crunchy or sticky foods.
How do I know if I have a cracked tooth?
Cracks in teeth aren't always visible to the naked eye, especially as they're often inside the tooth. Most people become aware of teeth cracks when their teeth hurt and feel more sensitive to temperature. If you also notice swelling in your gum around the painful tooth, or bad breath, these could be signs of an infection.
Only a dentist can tell you whether your tooth is cracked or if there's another problem. Cracks don't always show up on x-rays, so your dentist might use a magnifying lens or a dye to make suspected cracks show up, or they'll look for other signs such as a swollen gum. Once the location and size of a crack have been identified, they can discuss treatment options.
What can be done for a cracked tooth?
Small hairline cracks may not need treatment if they're not causing pain or putting you at risk, but larger cracks should be sealed to prevent infections and restore your tooth's integrity.
The treatments you dentist will recommend depend on the size of the crack, whether it reaches the gum and what symptoms you have. Common treatments for a cracked tooth include the following.
Minor cracks may be filled in by composite bonding using a plastic resin similar to that used in white fillings. This may also be used to reshape a damaged portion of a tooth.
For larger cracks that have weakened a tooth, your dentist may recommend placing a porcelain crown over the top. Crowns may be made from ceramic, metal or a combination of the two. Tooth-coloured ceramic crowns are designed to blend in with your natural teeth.
Before a crown can be fitted, the injured tooth will need to be filed down and impressions taken. Your crown may be designed and manufactured in an external laboratory and fitted on your next appointment, or your dental clinic may have its own milling machine to produce same day crowns.
Root canal therapy
If a crack reaches all the way inside a tooth, this could cause inflammation of the dental pulp – the soft tissue filled with blood vessels at the middle of every tooth. This can be extremely painful unless it's treated with root canal treatment (endodontic therapy).
Root canal therapy involves removing the damaged or infected pulp, replacing it with a synthetic substitute and restoring the tooth with a crown or large filling. Contrary to the popular misconception, root canal treatment isn't usually painful, but a tooth infection certainly can be.
Minor cracks that don't put your tooth at risk of infection may be covered up using porcelain veneers or composite veneers.
This cosmetic treatment involves placing a thin laminate over one or more teeth to change how they look, so while you won't actually be fixing the crack, you'll be blocking it from view. Veneers can also perform other aesthetic alterations, such as straightening or whitening teeth.
Dentists will only extract a tooth when there's no option of saving it. If your tooth has a deep crack and it's not possible to treat it with a crown, removing and replacing the tooth may be the best option to preserve your oral health and help you to eat normally.
Your dentist will discuss options for replacing the tooth, such as an implant or bridge, rather than leaving a gap, as this could cause other teeth to go crooked without support.
When can teeth get knocked out?
Teeth are the strongest part of the body, but if they're subjected to powerful forces, they can come loose or splinter.
Teeth may get knocked out due to sporting injuries, trips or falls, motor vehicle accidents or even by biting down too hard. A tooth that's already been damaged or weakened can get knocked out more easily than a strong tooth.
Can a tooth be reattached?
If a tooth has been knocked clean out and is still in one piece, there's a chance it could be reintegrated if you can see a dentist within 30 to 60 minutes. For the best chance of successful reimplantation:
- Pick up the tooth by the crown, not the roots
- Don't rinse the tooth, but you can gently remove dirt from the crown
- See if the tooth can slot back into the socket without applying too much force or causing pain
- If the tooth doesn't fit, place it in a sealed container or plastic wrap and cover it in milk or saliva
- Take your tooth to the dental clinic
What if a tooth can't be reattached?
Most of the time, a knocked out tooth is out for good, but that doesn't have to mean living with a gap. Your dentist will recommend replacing the tooth once your gum has had time to heal, as this helps to avoid problems with eating, speech or misalignment of the surrounding teeth.
The three main options to replace a missing tooth are:
Dental implants are titanium posts that replace a missing tooth right down to the roots. As well as being exceptionally strong and long-lasting, titanium is also biocompatible with bone tissue, allowing the implant to bond with the jaw once placed.
Implants can be the best long-term option for replacing one or more teeth, but they're also more expensive. Your dentist may offer finance options to help you spread your dental implant cost.
Dental bridges are artificial teeth supported by the healthy teeth on either side. This usually involves covering the surrounding teeth with crowns, but a bridge at the front of the mouth may be attached by clasps.
A bridge is more affordable than an implant in the short term, but it may have to be replaced after a number of years and it doesn't support new bone development in the jaw.
Partial dentures are removable false teeth that can replace one or several teeth in a row. They're usually made from plastic or metal and attach to the neighbouring teeth by clasps.
Dentures are the most affordable option for replacing missing teeth, but they also take more getting used to and require special care every day.
How to prevent tooth loss and cracks
A cracked or missing tooth may be repaired or replaced, but a restored tooth isn't always as strong as before. The best treatment for cracked and knocked out teeth is to try to avoid them in the first place. While this isn't always possible, you can lower your risk of dental injuries by:
- avoiding excessively hard food
- not using your teeth to open or tear objects
- wearing a custom mouthguard when you play sports
- following good oral hygiene every day
- talking to your dentist about ways to stop grinding your teeth
- having regular check-ups with your dentist to catch small problems before they become serious
Do you need a dentist in Sydney CBD?
Sydney CBD Dental offers emergency dental care at our George Street clinic. If you've had a dental accident or you want to discuss treatments, call our team today on (02) 9232 3900 or book an appointment online.
Healthline. Cracked Tooth [Online] 2017 [Accessed January 2021] Available from: https://www.healthline.com/health/cracked-tooth
Healthdirect. Dental injury [Online] 2017 [Accessed January 2021] Available from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/dental-injury
Better Health Channel. Dental injuries – tooth loss [Online] 2019 [Accessed January 2021] Available from: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/ConditionsAndTreatments/Dental-injuries-tooth-loss