A healthy tooth is characterised by strong and hard enamel. However, sometimes this enamel gets cracked open through habits like tooth grinding or biting onto hard things like ice or bones, leading to a cracked tooth. Our molars in particular are especially vulnerable to cracks as they absorb the majority of the force during chewing. While a minor crack may just be a cosmetic issue and may not require any treatment, a serious one will require attention.
Let’s look at how to identify a cracked tooth, some cracked tooth scenarios and whether a dental crown can help.
Signs of a cracked tooth
- Pain or discomfort when chewing or biting on the affected tooth
- Sensitivity to hot or cold food and drinks
- Swelling around the tooth
- Intermittent pain that returns every now and then
Take note that while a cracked tooth typically exhibits the symptoms as described above, in some cases there may be little or no pain. Some patients may also only experience some pain only when exposed to hot or cold liquids. Nevertheless, you should still see a dentist and pay attention to exactly where the pain is coming from. Until you get the treatment you need, try to avoid chewing on the side of the mouth with the cracked tooth as pressure can further crack and irritate the soft tissue inside your tooth.
Types of cracked tooth
At times, a cracked tooth may be difficult to identify especially if it’s not serious or visible to the naked eye. This is known as cracked tooth syndrome, where the patient experiences some pain but cannot identify the exact location of the crack. In some cases, the patient may not experience any pain or discomfort at all. This is what we call a craze line. Craze lines are small cracks in the hardened outer layer of the tooth caused by wear and tear. They are relatively common in adult teeth and do not require any treatment apart from some polishing to improve their appearance.
A fractured cusp occurs when a fragment of a tooth breaks off while the rest of the tooth structure remains intact. Depending on the crack’s size, location and type, as long as the pulp is not exposed, it can be fixed with a bonded filling or crown. This is to prevent the crack from worsening and getting infection. A crown can also help enhance aesthetics too.
A cracked tooth happens when the enamel breaks and exposes the dentine, causing the tooth to experience pain and sensitivity. Although the tooth is not separated into pieces, the crack unfortunately cannot be filled with merely a filling. The best option would be to reinforce a dental crown to prevent the crack from expanding. However, if the crack is deep and has caused infection, a root canal treatment is necessary. This procedure involves drilling the top of the tooth to remove soft tissue that contains nerves and blood vessels, also known as pulp. Once the root canal treatment is done, a crown may be placed over the tooth to protect it against further infection.
When a tooth splits entirely due to a crack, the gums around the teeth will start to bleed and swell. An extraction is necessary to prevent gum infection. It is recommended to replace the removed tooth to ensure a stable bite and preserve the alignment of remaining teeth. This tooth replacement may involve a dental bridge or dental implant, both of which require dental crowns as a pivotal part of the treatment.
A dental bridge will need two crowns (one at each end of the bridge) and a dental implant will need a crown placed over a metal rod which functions as the root of the tooth. In both options, the crowns work to maintain appearance and hold the new tooth in place.
Can a cracked tooth heal by itself?
Unfortunately, once a tooth is cracked, the crack will not go away and may even progress. For most patients, a crown provides the best chance of relieving pain and reducing the risk of the crack worsening. If you suspect you have a cracked tooth, see your dentist as soon as possible to prevent the crack from worsening.
To avoid cracked teeth from happening in the first place, try not to chew on hard objects and wear a night guard if you tend to grind or clench your teeth at night. When playing contact sports, wear a protective mouthguard to reduce the risk of trauma to your teeth.
- Alkhalifah, S., Alkandari, H., Sharma, P. N., & Moule, A. J. (2017). Treatment of Cracked Teeth. Journal of endodontics, 43(9), 1579–1586. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.joen.2017.03.029
- Seo, D. G., Yi, Y. A., Shin, S. J., & Park, J. W. (2012). Analysis of factors associated with cracked teeth. Journal of endodontics, 38(3), 288–292. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.joen.2011.11.017