It can happen from chewing on hard objects or foods like ice, nuts or hard candy. Tooth-grinding or clenching or having uneven chewing pressure can lead to a cracked tooth. Tooth structure wears down over time and large fillings or other restorations can result in a crack. Finally, you can crack a tooth by exposing tooth enamel to extreme hot and cold, such as when you eat hot food followed by drinking ice water.
The result of any of these events is often painful and can lead to further oral disease.
For patients who may have a cracked tooth, the American Dental Association provides some valuable advice on how to tell if you have one, why it’s painful and how to treat it.
First, how do you know if your tooth is cracked? Look for these signs:
- You have sharp pain when biting down that quickly disappears.
- You have pain that comes and goes but does not hurt all the time.
- You feel pain when eating or drinking.
- You may have no pain at all.
Cracks are sometimes invisible to the eye and don’t always show up on dental X-rays. By noting a couple of things, you can help your dentist identify the problem:
- Take note of the things that cause you pain, such as heat or cold, or eating foods that are sweet, sour or sticky.
- Try to determine the area of the pain.
Why are cracked teeth painful? The pressure of biting causes the crack in a tooth to open, which can cause pain. And even if it’s too small to see, the crack can open and irritate the pulp inside. The pulp is soft tissue that contains the tooth’s nerves and blood vessels. If the crack irritates the pulp, the tooth may become sensitive to extreme heat and cold. The pulp can also be damaged or diseased as a result of the crack. If that happens, endodontic (root canal) treatment may be necessary to save the tooth.
Treating a cracked tooth depends on the size and location of the crack and the symptoms you are experiencing. Dr. Galina will discuss which treatment is best. It’s possible that our dentist will recommend no treatment, since tiny cracks are common and usually do not cause problems. If you are experiencing localized pain, avoid chewing on that side of your mouth and call your dentist.
If your dentist recommends treatment, that could include:
- Repairing the tooth with a filling material.
- Placing a crown to protect the tooth from further damage.
- Endodontic (root canal) treatment if pulp is involved.
- Extracting the tooth if it is severely cracked and cannot be saved.
Perhaps most importantly, regular dental checkups enable your dentist to diagnose and treat problems in the early stages. A cracked tooth can become a bigger problem if left untreated.