Definition & Overview

A broken tooth is one of the most common dental problems that are experienced by everyone at least once in their lives. In the past, the condition is resolved through extraction. However, due to the numerous advancements in the field of dentistry as well as in dental technologies, tooth extraction is now the last option for the majority of broken tooth cases.

The teeth are some of the toughest parts of the body. The enamel that covers them provides the strength they need to withstand a lot of wear and tear, such as chewing and grinding. However, applying too much pressure will cause a tooth to break. Additionally, if tooth enamel has been worn down by cavities, the strength of a tooth decreases significantly, up to the point that even the slightest pressure will cause breakage.

A crack in a tooth will leave the pulp and roots open to bacteria. If left untreated, bacteria will cause infections that can result in a variety of complications such as the development of abscess that can travel to the brain, which could then result in a brain infection.

As such, a broken tooth needs to be repaired as soon as possible to prevent the condition from worsening. Most of the time, a broken tooth will display symptoms, such as pain and sensitivity, which would necessitate a visit to the dentist. But some people don’t experience these symptoms despite the presence of the dental condition. If they don’t visit a dentist on a regular basis, it’s likely that complications will develop.

Cause of Condition

A tooth can break if too much pressure is applied on it. This can be external pressure, such as a blow to the mouth during an altercation or a sports match, or it can be internal pressure, such as chewing and grinding. Some people have a tendency to grind their teeth while they’re sleeping and they need to wear mouth guards at night to prevent tooth damage.

Another common cause of a broken tooth is cavities. When bacteria buildup on a tooth, it can create small holes called cavities, which affect the structure of the tooth and weaken it. In time, the tooth will be so weak that even the slightest pressure can cause it to break.

Key Symptoms

The symptoms of a broken tooth are pain and sensitivity to cold or hot food and drinks. The tooth can become so sensitive that even drinking a glass of plain water would be painful. However, some people may not experience any symptoms.

A crack in the tooth can occur in different places, such as along the crown and vertically from the root to the crown. If the crack is not large and only affects the crown, it’s possible that the person would not feel the symptoms until such time the nerves have been infected.

Who to See & Types of Treatment Available

Everybody should undergo periodic dental checkups, even if the teeth seem to be fine. However, if you have a broken tooth, you should visit an endodontist, a specialist in the preservation of natural teeth, as soon as possible so that the tooth can be saved.

After inspecting the affected tooth and the gums surrounding it, the endodontist will recommend treatment. Treatment will depend on the size and location of the crack. In some cases, the dentist will recommend dental fillers or bonding elements to seal it. However, if the crack is large, the dentist will usually recommend a root canal procedure.

If the chip or crack in the tooth is small and is hidden, the dentist will likely opt to use a dental filler to seal the crack. However, if the crack is visible and affects your smile, the dentist will recommend dental bonding. In this procedure, the dentist will first roughen the surface of the tooth and then apply an adhesive material followed by a bonding agent. The dentist will then shape the bonding material so that it takes the form of the natural tooth. At this point, the bonding material is still soft and malleable. To harden it, the dentist will expose the tooth to ultraviolet rays.

Root canal treatment involves drilling an opening in the top of the tooth to expose the pulp and root. The dentist will then use special dental instruments to remove the pulp and nerves. Without these, the tooth will no longer be sensitive and prone to infections.

The root will then be filled with material and the opening sealed with dental filler. The next step is to install a dental crown or cap over the tooth to prevent further damage.

If the tooth has been damaged beyond repair and it wouldn’t be worth preserving, the dentist will perform a tooth extraction. However, you’ll be given the option to replace the missing tooth with a dental implant. Dental implants can be fitted directly after extracting a natural tooth or once the wound has healed and the bone has adjusted.

Replacing a missing tooth with a dental implant prevents damage to the surrounding teeth. A missing tooth will create uneven pressure and will change your “bite”. This will result in other teeth having to take on additional pressure, which would wear them down faster. With a dental implant in the missing space, your bite will be restored to normal and so will your smile.

References:

  • American Association of Endodontists

  • Pfenninger JL, Fowlder GC. Management of dental injuries and reimplantation of an avulsed tooth. In: Pfenninger JL, Fowlder GC, eds. Pfenninger & Fowler's Procedures for Primary Care. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Mosby; 2011:chap 81

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