Inside our teeth is a dense network of nerves and blood vessels known as the pulp. When the pulp is irritated it can make our teeth one of the most sensitive parts of our body. This sensitivity means we may experience pain as a symptom of a cracked tooth.
A cracked tooth can be serious business. Ignoring the symptoms of a cracked tooth can lead to further dental problems down the road, including infection and even tooth loss.
Why Teeth Crack
Just like a chipped tooth, there are several reasons teeth crack. A strong tooth sometimes cracks because of an accident or a blow to the mouth. But more often than not, a tooth is weakened first before it eventually cracks.
As you age, your teeth weaken from the daily forces of chewing, biting, and grinding. In some cases, you might not even realize the exact moment in which your weakened tooth finally cracks.
Different Types of Cracked Teeth
There are actually several distinct types of cracked teeth. The way your dentist addresses your cracked tooth depends on which type of crack you have, its location in your mouth, and its severity.
The five types of cracked teeth are:
- Craze lines: A shallow, hairline crack in the enamel of a tooth. Craze lines are common in adult teeth and don’t require treatment.
- Fractured cusp: A crack in, and including, the chewing surface of a back tooth.
- Cracked tooth: A crack extending from the chewing surface down toward the root. The tooth is still in one piece.
- Split tooth: A tooth split into two separate parts.
- Vertical root fracture: A crack in the root of a tooth.
Diagnosing a Cracked Tooth
It can be frustratingly difficult to locate and diagnose a cracked tooth. This is because cracked teeth may not be visible during a dental exam or show up on an x-ray. It also turns out that our brain is bad at locating the exact source of tooth pain within our mouth. Is the pain coming from the top teeth or the bottom teeth? Sometimes the brain just doesn’t know. As a result, cracked teeth can be confused with sinus pain, headaches or earaches.
To pinpoint the location of a cracked tooth, your dentist will have you bite down on a small item like a plastic stick or a wood dowel, one tooth at a time. He or she may also place a light directly on your tooth or use dark-colored dye to highlight fracture lines.
How to Fix a Cracked Tooth
Treating a symptomatic cracked tooth as soon as possible improves the chances of saving the tooth. Even if the crack in your tooth is small, it can expand with the pressure of biting and eating, eventually turning from a cracked tooth to a split tooth. If the crack in your tooth becomes large enough, it could become vulnerable to decay. If untreated, tooth decay can spread to the pulp and cause a larger infection, eventually leading to a dead tooth or even tooth loss.
How your dentist repairs your cracked tooth depends on the location and type of crack. Some don’t need repair, some might require filling the crack or place a crown over the tooth to protect it from further damage.
If a tooth splits, your dentist will need to remove part of the tooth and repair it with bonding, an onlay or a crown. If the split is severe, the tooth will need to be extracted.
Since there is a range of severity for cracked teeth, the best thing to do is call your dentist right away if you feel pain or suspect a cracked tooth. And of course, maintaining your healthy smile with twice annual oral exams can help your dentist diagnose a problematic crack before it becomes unmanageable.