Because we live longer and more stressful lives today, we expose our teeth to many more years of potentially damaging habits such as clenching, grinding, and chewing on hard objects.
These habits make our teeth more susceptible to cracks. Your endodontist may treat a cracked tooth to prevent further damage to the tooth structure and tissue.
Cracked teeth do not always show any visible signs of damage. Still, they may present a variety of symptoms, including erratic pain when you chew with them and pain or sensitivity to heat and cold. The pain may come and go in many cases, making it difficult for your doctor to locate the source.
Why Cracked Teeth Hurt
When the outer hard tissues of the tooth are cracked, chewing can cause movement of the pieces, and the pulp becomes irritated. The crack can close quickly when biting pressure is released, resulting in momentary, sharp pain. Irritation of the dental pulp can be repeated many times by chewing.
Eventually, the pulp will become damaged to the point where it can no longer heal itself. The tooth will not only hurt during chewing but may also become sensitive to extreme temperatures. In time, a cracked tooth may begin to hurt all by itself. Extensive cracks will lead to infection of the pulp tissue, even spreading to the bone and gum tissue that surrounds the tooth.
Types of Cracked Teeth
There are many different types of cracked teeth. The treatment and outcome for your tooth depend on the crack's type, location, and extent.
Craze lines are tiny cracks that affect only the outer enamel. These cracks are extremely common in adult teeth. Craze lines are very shallow, cause no pain, and are of no concern beyond appearance.
A fracture sometimes results when a cusp (the pointed part of the chewing surface) becomes weakened. The weakened cusp may break off by itself or have to be removed by the endodontist. When this happens, the pain will usually be relieved. A fractured cusp rarely damages the pulp, so root canal treatment is seldom needed. Your tooth will usually be restored with a full crown by your dentist.
A cracked tooth may not be completely separated into two distinct segments. Some cracks extend from the tooth's chewing surface vertically toward the root. Because of the position of the crack, damage to the pulp is common. Root canal treatment is frequently needed to treat the injured pulp.
Your dentist will restore your tooth with a crown to hold the pieces together and protect the cracked tooth. The crack may sometimes extend below the gingival tissue line, which requires extraction.
A split tooth is often the result of the long-term progression of a cracked tooth. A crack identifies the split tooth with distinct segments that can be separated. A split tooth cannot be saved intact. However, the position and extent of the crack will determine whether a part of the tooth can be saved. In rare instances, endodontic treatment and a crown or other restoration by your dentist may be used to save a portion of the tooth.
Vertical Root Fracture
Vertical root fractures are cracks that begin in the root of the tooth and extend toward the chewing surface. They often show minimal signs and symptoms and may go unnoticed until the surrounding bone and gum become infected. Treatment may entail the extraction of the tooth. However, endodontic surgery is sometimes appropriate if the removal of the fractured root can save a portion of the tooth.
Preventing Cracked Teeth
While cracked teeth are not completely preventable, you can take some steps to make your teeth less susceptible to cracks.
- Don't chew on hard objects such as ice, unpopped popcorn kernels, or pens.
- Don't clench or grind your teeth.
- Wear a mouthguard or protective mask when playing contact sports.
Early diagnosis is important. Even with high magnification and special lighting, it can be challenging to determine the extent of a crack. A cracked tooth that is not treated will progressively worsen and eventually result in the loss of the tooth. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential to saving these teeth.