By: Dr. Elizabeth Eggert
Most people, at some point in their lives, will end up with a crack in one or more of their teeth. Cracks are not uncommon and can spring up from a variety of situations. From chewing on hard or sticky foods, to grinding your teeth during the day and/or night or simply from aging, don’t be surprised if at some point you discover a cracked tooth in your mouth. At Eggert Family Dentistry, we know that when you have a crack in a tooth it can be stressful. How should you proceed? Because navigating a cracked tooth largely depends on the type of crack it is, we want to take some time to inform you about what you can expect with various types of cracks.
How is a cracked tooth diagnosed?
At Eggert Family Dentistry, we make sure to do a thorough exam of all your teeth, visually looking for any signs of cracking or other wear and tear. Some other diagnostic methods Dr. Elizabeth and Dr. Jeff may employ include: probing of the gums in search of inflammation or deeper pockets, photographing with the intraoral camera, or use of the “tooth sleuth,” a semi-hard bite stick to see if you experience pain – a telltale sign.
What types of cracks are there? How are they typically treated?
Once Dr. Elizabeth or Dr. Jeff locate the crack, they are then able to identify it. All cracked teeth fall into one of five categories: craze lines, cracked tooth, fractured cusp, vertical root crack, or split tooth. The way we proceed depends on which type of crack you are experiencing. Let’s look at definitions for the various types of cracks:
Craze lines: The most common and least concerning type of crack. Craze lines only affect the enamel of the tooth. Typically, craze lines simply need to be monitored to make sure they don’t turn into something more serious.
Cracked tooth: Although we use this term generically, it is specifically indicative of a crack moving toward the center of the tooth. It’s important to treat a cracked tooth in a timely fashion or it can become a split tooth and lead to an extraction.
Fractured cusp: This type of crack usually occurs around a dental filling and may or may not affect the pulp of the tooth. Because a fractured cusp means a significant portion of the tooth has been lost, it is always best to restore this type of damage with an onlay or crown.
Vertical root crack: This type of crack moves up the root of the tooth from the gumline. A vertical root crack allows a significant amount of bacteria to accumulate on the root surface and causes a severe infection of the gum tissue and surrounding bone. Occasionally this infection also reaches the pulp of the tooth, also causing a tooth abscess. Typically a tooth with this type of fracture must be removed.
Split tooth: As opposed to a vertical root crack, a split tooth means that the crack has become so severe that the tooth splits in half or at least significantly into the surrounding bone. It is unlikely to be able to save a tooth that is split and usually the recommended course of treatment is to remove the tooth.
What other methods of treatment exist?
As you can see, there are various types of cracks requiring various types of treatment. Depending on the scenario, the best treatment options usually are to crown the tooth and enclose the crack. Occasionally a root canal will be indicated, now or in the future, to treat any damage the crack has caused to the pulp. If a tooth with a vertical root crack or a split tooth needs to be removed, there are various ways to replace the tooth, including an implant, a bridge, or a partial denture.
The biggest complication with a cracked tooth is an infection. We do not take these infections lightly as they can spread to the bone and gums. Symptoms of infections may include: pain when chewing, fever, hot and cold sensitivity, tender neck glands, swollen gums and bad breath. If you suspect you have an infection in one of your teeth, we recommend you call us right away.
The earlier the intervention when it comes to a cracked tooth, the better the outcome you will likely experience. A couple things to keep in mind to protect your teeth against cracks: avoid chewing on hard or sticky foods and wear a mouthguard for sports or a splint at night if you’re a teeth grinder.
You’re in good hands at Eggert Family Dentistry. If you crack a tooth, connect with us right away. We are happy to partner with you for any dental emergencies and for the dental wellness needs for your entire family. Give us a call at 651.482.8412!