What to Know If You Chip a Tooth
Chipping a tooth is quite common even though tooth enamel is the hardest tissue in the human body. Whether the chip is visible (because it’s on one of your front teeth) or not, it’s important to seek treatment as soon as possible. If ignored and left untreated, a chipped tooth can lead to larger issues. Here’s what you need to know about a chipped tooth and how to fix it.
What causes a chipped tooth?
Tooth enamel is not indestructible even though it is the most mineralized, and therefore strongest, tissue in the body. While our dentists have seen many causes for chipped teeth in our offices over the years, here are some of the most common ways people chip a tooth:
- Grinding teeth when sleeping
- Opening packages or bottles with teeth
- Trauma to the mouth
- Car accidents
- Contact sports without a mouth guard
- Cavities or decay that weaken the tooth
- Chewing hard items such as candy, ice, toffee
- Amalgam fillings that fail to support the remaining enamel
Chipped a Tooth? Here’s What to Do
There’s nothing to panic about when you chip a tooth. Although your appearance might be a bit shocking to you if the chip is visible, dentists fix chipped teeth all the time with great results. Rest assured, there’s nothing to be afraid of.
Don’t wait to schedule an appointment to see your dentist after you chip, fracture or break a tooth. Oftentimes patients will delay scheduling an appointment if they aren’t in pain or if the chipped tooth isn’t visible. Having your dentist examine your tooth as soon as possible can help prevent infection or further damage. You will minimize the chances of losing your tooth from the trauma when you get in to see your dentist at the earliest availability.
Pain doesn’t always occur when you chip a tooth. If you have any pain-constant or intermittent-an over-the-counter pain reliever such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can typically diminish your discomfort. Rinsing with salt water can also help provide pain relief, remove any food particles and reduce the risk of infection. Apply an ice pack on your cheek outside where the tooth is to reduce any swelling and to numb pain. Keep in mind that sometimes you can’t see any damage to a tooth, but if there is pain when you bite down on a tooth, it should be looked at because there is likely damage to the tooth.
If the damage to your tooth left a sharp edge, cover it with paraffin wax or a piece of sugarless gum to protect your lip, cheek and tongue from cuts until you can get the tooth restored. Avoid hot or cold beverages; room temperature drinks can help you avoid temperature sensitivity you might experience if pulp-connective tissue, blood vessels and nerves that are in the inner part of your tooth-is exposed. Until your tooth is restored, avoid biting down on the broken tooth and eat only soft foods.
Types of Broken or Chipped Teeth
There is not one treatment option that is best for every chip or crack on a tooth. That’s why dentists will restore teeth differently depending on what type of break, crack or chip was experienced. Here are a few of the different types:
Visible Front Tooth Chips: Most small chips can be repaired with bonding where a composite resin will fill in the gap.
Cusp breaks: The pointed chewing surfaces on top of your teeth are the cusps. If the cusp chips, it can cause sharp edges or alignment issues. Sometimes all that is required is for the dentist to file down the sharp parts. In some cases, a crown is recommended.
Split tooth: Your molars have more than one root. If you have a split tooth break, your tooth has split vertically and the dentist must determine if you are able to keep one of the roots. If one root is healthy, a crown will be attached after a root canal treatment. In other cases, the tooth needs to be extracted.
Breaks caused by decay: Significant decay can cause a tooth to crack. When decay reaches the bone, a tooth extraction might be recommended. One of the best ways to replace the tooth is a dental implant.
Vertical breaks: When a crack starts at your root and moves upward, it’s called a vertical break. There is often pain associated with this type of break and it usually requires the tooth to be pulled.
How a Chipped Tooth Gets Fixed
At your appointment, the dentist will determine your treatment plan after assessing the damage to your tooth. Treatment plans are based on the severity and type of break or chip you have. The following treatments are the most common for a broken tooth.
Dental Filling (Bonding)
When there is a just a crack that effects only the outer surface of the tooth, sometimes a light polish of the area to remove rough spots is all that’s required. If part of the enamel is chipped, dentists typically apply a filling or bonding. Bonding is a straightforward treatment that usually doesn’t require any numbing. Your dentist will etch the surface of the tooth with a liquid or gel material that helps the tooth-colored composite resin adhere to the tooth. The resin is applied to the tooth with adhesive material and is shaped to be like your other teeth. The final step is when an ultraviolet light is used to harden the resin. With proper care, bonding should last a decade or more and therefore this is a great solution for small chips.
Veneers, made from a very thin porcelain laminate or resin composite, go on the front of the tooth to treat a crack. This treatment provides a natural, smooth look. It is necessary when a crack is more significant than what bonding can address. Veneers also help correct the shape and color of the cracked tooth; consider a veneer like a false nail is to your fingernail-that lasts a lot longer!
A tooth-shaped cap to cover the entire tooth is called a dental crown and is another option to treat a broken tooth when the damage to the tooth is significant. Dental crowns are typically made of resin or porcelain and will resemble your other teeth. The treatment starts with X-rays so that the roots of your teeth can be examined by your dentist to ensure there’s no damage. Then, the dentist will prepare your tooth for the crown by grinding away part of it. After that, an impression is made so that the crown will fit the receiving tooth and the one it connects with when you bite. Some dental offices can make permanent crowns while you wait; however, in many offices a permanent crown is made in a lab. In that case, you will come back in a couple of weeks to get your permanent dental crown placed. You leave the first appointment with a temporary crown that’s made of acrylic that helps you talk and eat normally until you get the permanent crown.
The trauma that caused the damage to the tooth can also damage the pulp and allow infection to invade. If that happens, a root canal treatment is required. If your tooth is sensitive to heat, hurts or changes color, it might indicate you have damage to your root. Dentists or specialists called endodontists perform a root canal treatment which involves removing the inner tissues of the tooth that are dead or diseased. Despite its unsavory reputation, today’s new and improved root canal treatments are usually no more uncomfortable than getting a cavity filled.
The most important thing to remember when you damage a tooth-DO NOT PANIC and schedule an appointment with your dentist’s office right away. The dentist will examine your tooth and take an X-ray to verify the health of the root. After that, the dentist will be able to recommend a treatment plan to fix your chipped tooth.
At Monarch Dental we look forward to helping you fix a chipped tooth and to care for all your preventative and emergency dental needs throughout the year.