The teeth may be the strongest part of the body, but they're not indestructible. Chipping or breaking a tooth is a common dental injury that can happen to people of all ages. Knowing what to do if your tooth gets damaged could improve your chance of making a fast recovery.
Teeth may be more prone to chipping if they stick out, if you play sport without a mouthguard or if you have poor oral health, but accidents can happen even if you look after your teeth. A chipped tooth isn't only an aesthetic issue, as it could make it more difficult to eat or expose the inside of the tooth to infection.
A chipped tooth won't heal by itself and it could lead to more serious problems without proper care, so you should always visit a dentist to get a professional diagnosis and discuss appropriate treatments.
What causes teeth to chip?
Teeth can break for many reasons. When you know some of the common reasons why teeth chip, you can take steps to protect yourself and your family against sources of dental injuries. These include:
- biting down on something hard (such as nuts or unpopped popcorn)
- using your teeth as tools (such as to open packaging or cut tape)
- sporting injuries or other trauma to the mouth
- falling over
- motor vehicle and cycling accidents
Teeth will be more prone to damage if they've been worn down by decay or erosion, put under pressure from teeth grinding or an uneven bite, if your teeth protrude, or if you don't get enough calcium and phosphorus in your diet to help rebuild teeth enamel.
How do I know if I have a chipped tooth?
Most people can tell if their tooth is damaged by the way it looks and feels in their mouth, but a chipped tooth isn't always so obvious to detect. Even if damage to your teeth is minor, your mouth could still be at risk of infection from microscopic bacteria.
You may have a chipped or cracked tooth if the tooth hurts when you eat or drink or if it feels more sensitive to temperature. If you develop a fever or swelling soon after a mouth injury, this could also indicate that a tooth is chipped or cracked.
What can happen if I don't fix a chipped tooth?
Even a small chip in a tooth is a big deal. A broken tooth won't heal by itself, and the longer you wait to see a professional and get treatment, the longer you'll be at risk of complications from the injury. These can include:
- sharp edges of the tooth injuring soft tissues in your mouth
- difficulty eating certain foods, which could affect your diet and nutrition
- root canal infections from a deep chip, causing toothache, sensitivity or bad breath
- other infections or a dental abscess developing below the tooth
How can I fix a chipped tooth at home?
It's never recommended that you try your own dental surgery at home, but knowing how to treat your immediate symptoms in a dental emergency can improve your chances of a smooth recovery.
- If you chip or crack a tooth, you should first remove any loose pieces from your mouth to avoid accidentally swallowing them. Rinse your mouth clean to make sure you've removed all debris.
- If the edge of the tooth is sharp, cover it with gauze or a piece of sugar-free chewing gum so it won't cut into your mouth.
- If you feel pain, you can take pain relief medication at an appropriate dose if you have it available, or place an ice pack of cold compress against the outside of your cheek.
- Unlike a knocked-out tooth, chipped tooth fragments that have broken off can't be reattached. Try to find all the pieces and dispose of them safely.
- Call your dentist for more advice and to book an emergency appointment at the clinic.
When should I see a dentist?
You should see a dentist as soon as possible after injuring your tooth or noticing that it's damaged. They'll examine your mouth visually and use radiography (x-rays) if needed to see how deep the chip is and detect any other damage to your teeth that you might not even be aware of.
Once your dentist has identified the problems in your mouth, they'll discuss the treatments they offer to repair the chip and restore the look and function of your tooth.
How is a chipped tooth treated?
Treatments for a chipped tooth depend on how severe the damage is, the general condition of the tooth and whether there are any other issues that also need treatment. Your dental procedure may be completed in a single visit or may involve several appointments. The most common treatments are as follows.
Bonding and filing
For minor chips in teeth, your dentist may recommend smoothing down the damaged area by filing down any sharp edges and applying a bonding agent made from composite resin. Your dentist will choose a resin colour that's the closest match for your natural tooth shade.
Another option for minor chips is to rebuild the missing part of the tooth with a small tooth filling. This can usually be completed in a single visit, although you should take it easy on the treated tooth over the next few days and eat soft foods to avoid dislodging it.
Inlay or onlay
A middle ground between fillings and crowns, inlays and onlays are small restorations made outside the mouth that are then fitted inside a cavity. Inlays can restore a chipped tooth between the cusps, while onlays extend over the cusps and can restore the entire top surface of the tooth.
For more severe tooth damage, your dentist will likely recommend a dental crown. Crowns or caps are strong restorations made from porcelain (ceramic), metal or porcelain fused to metal (PFM). Porcelain and PFM crowns can be made to blend in with the rest of the tooth for a seamless join.
Crowns are custom made outside of the mouth and cemented into place. Making a crown may take several days or weeks if it's done externally at a dental laboratory, but clinics equipped with CEREC technology may be able to design, manufacture and fit your crown all on the same day.
If you've chipped a front tooth, dental veneers may be an alternative to a crown. Made from porcelain or composite resin, veneers are bonded to the front of teeth to change their appearance.
As veneers are intended as a cosmetic dentistry treatment, the underlying damage to the tooth may not be repaired, so veneers aren't recommended for deeper chips that are causing pain and sensitivity.
Dentists will only suggest extracting a tooth as a last resort when no other treatment is likely to succeed. This may be the case for some deep chips where little of the tooth's structure remains.
Leaving a gap between your teeth can create problems such as the nearby teeth shifting position, so your dentist will discuss options to replace the tooth – such as a dental implant, dental bridge or denture – once the gum has healed.
How much does it cost to fix a chipped tooth?
Your dentist can give you information about treatment costs to help you decide which treatment is right for you. Generally, the more severe the damage and the larger the restoration needed, the higher the cost.
If you have health insurance that includes dental cover, treatments such as fillings and crowns will normally be covered up to your annual limits, but cosmetic treatments such as veneers aren't likely to be included.
You can ask your dentist what payment plans they offer to help make your dental costs more manageable.
How to prevent a chipped tooth
Prevention is the best cure, and when you know how teeth get chipped, you can take steps to protect yourself and your loved ones and lower your risk of a dental emergency. These steps include:
- avoiding very hard foods
- not using your teeth as tools
- wearing a sports mouthguard when playing sport and other activities
- wearing a night guard or other treatments for teeth grinding (bruxism)
- orthodontics to correct a bad bite or protruding teeth
- brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing once a day
- eating a balanced diet and cutting down on sugar
- visiting your dentist on schedule for your check-ups and teeth cleaning
Emergency dentist in Sydney CBD
If you've chipped a tooth and need advice or urgent care, call (02) 9232 3900 to talk to our dentists at Sydney CBD Dental.
We keep slots open every day for emergency appointments at our dental clinic at 300 George Street. We'll fit you in as soon as possible, as well as give you advice over the phone to help you manage your condition.
Our Sydney dentists provide a wide range of treatments to repair a chipped or cracked tooth, including fillings, crowns and veneers. To find out more about our treatments and costs, call our friendly team or make an appointment today.
Healthdirect. Dental injury [Online] 2017 [Accessed March 2020] Available from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/dental-injury
Healthdirect. Dental crown procedure [Online] 2019 [Accessed March 2020] Available from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/dental-crown-procedure
Healthdirect. Veneers [Online] 2018 [Accessed March 2020] Available from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/veneers
Better Health Channel. Dental treatment [Online] 2018 [Accessed March 2020] Available from: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/dental-treatment