It’s all too easy to crack a tooth, whether from biting down on something hard like a popcorn kernel or using your teeth (improperly) as a tool. If you sustain a crack, though, you have no way of telling how bad it is; only a professional can make the call.
At Back of the Wasatch Family and Cosmetic Dentistry in Heber City, Utah, Dr. Reed Lobrot and our team have seen our fair share of cracked teeth, which is why we offer emergency dental services, so you can get fast help with diagnosing the extent of the problem and appropriate treatment. Here’s why you shouldn’t just ignore a cracked tooth.
The nature of a crack
Your teeth are covered above the gum line with a hard layer of enamel, which gives them their white color. Enamel is the hardest material in the human body, even harder than your bones. The root below the gum line is covered with cementum, another hard substance. Both give the teeth resilience against attack by bacteria, acidic foods and byproducts, and plaque.
These coverings also serve as an important barrier because underneath the covering and a mineralized layer of dentin is the pulp chamber. This soft inner tissue, called the pulp, is where you find the blood vessels, connective tissues, and highly sensitive nerves, all vulnerable to attack.
When you crack a tooth, the tooth structure is compromised. Some cracks are superficial and only need a little resin to cover the break, or they may not even need treatment.
However, if the crack penetrates through the enamel or cementum, it can provide an opportunity for bacteria to enter and infect the inner pulp, leading to decay, gum disease, or even permanent pulp damage.
What you should do if you crack a tooth
If you crack a tooth, try not to panic. First, assess the situation, and then follow these steps as indicated by the American Dental Association:
- Rinse your mouth gently with warm water to remove any blood and debris
- Apply an ice pack to the cheek to minimize swelling
- Take acetaminophen (Tylenol®) — not aspirin, which is a blood thinner — to relieve pain; don’t use a topical painkiller, such as Orajel™ or Anbesol®, because it may burn the gums
- Put dental wax (available at any pharmacy) over jagged edges
- Get to the dentist as soon as possible
Once you arrive, Dr. Lobrot will take an X-ray to assess the extent of the damage and draw up a treatment plan.
Treating a cracked tooth
The treatment Dr. Lobrot opts for depends on the severity of the crack. If you only have a jagged edge or a superficial crack, he may either polish the surface or use a tooth-colored resin (dental bonding) to fill in the gaps. He may also opt to place a dental veneer on the tooth.
If the crack extends into the pulp chamber, the tooth must be repaired to prevent bacteria and food debris from entering and causing an infection. In this case, Dr. Lobrot performs a root canal procedure to save the root structure.
During a root canal, he drills a small hole in the top of the tooth, removes the inner pulp, cleans the tooth’s canals that run from the pulp chamber to the tooth root, and fills the chamber with a rubbery material called gutta-percha. If enough of the original tooth structure remains after the procedure, Dr. Lobrot can fill the missing section with dental bonding. If there isn’t enough of the tooth left, he can place a bridge or crown to protect it.
Sometimes, though, the crack is too severe for even a root canal to save the tooth; you may need to have the tooth removed. In these cases, Dr. Lobrot can replace the tooth with a dental implant, a titanium screw that sits in your jawbone and serves as an artificial “root.” He then crowns the root to give you a natural-looking tooth.
For more tips about dealing with dental emergencies or to schedule an appointment with Dr. Lobrot, call Back of the Wasatch Family and Cosmetic Dentistry at 435-654-4500 or book online with us today.