If a person experiences pain when chewing food, or if teeth suddenly become sensitive to hot and cold, one tooth may be a cracked.
Any pain associated with a cracked tooth tends to come and go. This can make it more challenging for a dentist to locate the crack, especially if it is very small.
Anyone who suspects that they have a cracked tooth should make an appointment with the dentist as soon as possible. Leaving a cracked tooth untreated may lead to more problems, pain, and discomfort over time.
What are the symptoms?
When left untreated, a cracked tooth can lead to further pain and discomfort.
A cracked tooth will not necessarily cause any symptoms. People often have cracked teeth without even realizing it.
Some types of cracks are harmless and do not require treatment.
However, if a person notices the following symptoms, they may have a more extensive type of crack that requires dental treatment:
- pain when eating, particularly when chewing or biting
- swollen gums around the cracked tooth
- teeth that have suddenly become sensitive to sweetness
- teeth that have suddenly become sensitive to hot or cold foods
- pain that tends to come and go
- discomfort around the teeth and gums that is hard to pinpoint
What might cause teeth to crack?
There are many different reasons why teeth can crack.
Causes of a cracked tooth include:
- biting down too hard on a piece of food
- excessive grinding of the teeth
- physical injury
- a large existing filling, which can weaken the remaining tooth structure
A sudden temperature change can also crack a tooth. For example, this could happen if a person burns their mouth while drinking tea, then drinks a glass of cold water to soothe the pain.
How are cracked teeth diagnosed?
A dentist will examine a person's tooth before making a diagnosis.
A cracked tooth is not always simple to diagnose.
If the crack is not visible, a dentist will try to make a diagnosis by asking the person about their dental history and symptoms they are having.
The dentist will then examine the teeth, possibly using a magnifying glass to help to identify cracks.
They may also use a pointed instrument called a dental explorer, which catches on any rough, cracked edges on the teeth's surface.
A dental dye can also make cracks more visible.
During the examination, the dentist will check the gums for signs of inflammation because cracks in teeth tend to irritate the gums. They may also ask the person to bite down on something, to try and pinpoint the source of the pain.
A dentist may take an X-ray of the teeth. X-rays do not always show where cracks have formed, but they can reveal problems in the pulp of the teeth. If the pulp of a tooth appears to be unhealthy, this can suggest a crack.
When should you see a dentist?
Anyone who suspects that they have a cracked tooth should make an appointment with a dentist as soon as possible. It is especially important to do so when there are pain and discomfort.
In the meantime, the following home remedies can relieve uncomfortable symptoms:
- rinsing the mouth with warm water, to keep it clean
- taking over-the-counter pain medications, such as ibuprofen
- using a cold compress against the cheek to help reduce swelling
The longer that a cracked tooth goes untreated, the more difficult it may be for a dentist to save the tooth. Complications may also occur, such as infection.
Types of cracked tooth
Tooth cracks are more common in people over the age of 40, and women develop them more often than men.
Cracks can vary in length, depth, as the location on the tooth.
The smallest cracks are known as craze lines, and they develop within tooth enamel. A person is unlikely to notice a craze line, and no treatment is necessary unless it causes symptoms.
The following are other types of cracks in teeth:
- Oblique supragingival cracks. These only affect the crown and do not extend below the gum line. As a result, they are not usually very painful.
- Oblique subgingival cracks. These do extend below the gum line, and they can be painful. Treatment is necessary to expose the crown and restore the tooth.
- Split tooth. This crack splits the tooth in two. A dentist will likely only be able to save one part, which will usually be restored with a crown. A person may also need root canal treatment.
- Oblique root cracks. These cracks usually do not appear on the surface of the tooth. The damage occurs below the gum line, most commonly below the jawbone. Tooth extraction is often the only treatment for this type of crack.
- Fractured cusp. This occurs when a piece of the chewing surface of a tooth breaks. A fractured cusp is most common around a dental filling.
- Vertical apical root cracks. This type of crack begins at the root of the tooth and extends toward the crown. It may range in length, but the tooth will often have to be removed because of the pain.
A dentist may use a crown to cover a cracked tooth.
The best treatment depends on the location of the crack and the extent of the damage.
If a crack is tiny and causes no discomfort, no treatment may be necessary.
Treatments for cracked teeth include:
- gluing on the chipped or broken part of a tooth
- repairing the crack with plastic resin, in a process called bonding
- using a filling
- using a crown, which is a cap that entirely covers the cracked tooth
In the most severe cases, when a crack has penetrated the pulp of the tooth, root canal treatment may be necessary. If a tooth is badly cracked, a dentist may remove it altogether.
If a tooth with a filling becomes cracked, a dentist may need to remove the filling to examine the damage more thoroughly.
Cracked teeth can cause complications, particularly if they are left untreated. For example, an infection may occur. Signs of infection include:
- increased pain
- swelling of the gums
- increased sensitivity to hot and cold
- bad breath
- sore neck glands
How can cracked teeth be prevented?
Cracked teeth are not always preventable, but a few strategies can help. These include:
- avoiding foods that are hard to chew, such as ice and unpopped popcorn kernels
- putting an end to habits that may damage the teeth, such as grinding or biting on pens
- trying not to clench the teeth
- wearing a mouthguard to protect the teeth while playing sports
If a person grinds their teeth or clenches their jaw in their sleep, they may wish to talk to their dentist about wearing a mouthguard at night.