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Cracked tooth dental emergency: 4 ways to treat a cracked tooth

Find out how to treat a cracked tooth emergency and how to pay for it.

12 minute read

Picture this: you're chewing your favorite food, and suddenly, you feel a sharp pain on the side of your mouth. It can disappear, but the pain may flare up whenever you chew with that part of your mouth. Suddenly, you also find yourself with sensitivity to hot or cold food and drinks, as well as sticky, sour, or sweet items. The crack itself may be practically invisible, but it's very important to look for the symptoms mentioned above to tell whether your tooth is cracked and whether you need to seek emergency dental care.

Symptoms of cracked teeth 

Not all cracked teeth produce symptoms, but when they do, the symptoms are usually noticeable and easy to identify: 

  • The most prominent symptom is pain that follows chewing, mainly when the bite is released
  • Sensitivity to heat, cold, and sweetness
  • The gum around the affected tooth is swollen and tender
  • There is a pain that comes and goes and is hardly continuous

The cost of a cracked tooth

In addition to the discomfort that a cracked tooth brings, you also have to consider the fees. Someone paying out of pocket will be looking at the following costs1

  • Emergency out-of-hours visit: $200 - $500
  • Initial exam: $50 - $200
  • X-rays: $35 - $150
  • Scale and polish: $60 - $85
  • Fillings: $50 - $300
  • Root canal treatment: $700 - $1,000
  • Extraction: $75 - $800
  • Inlays and onlays: $200 - $500
  • Veneers: $250 - $2,500
  • Crowns: $500 - $2,000

As you can see, things can add up quickly. In many cases, dental insurance can help you cover these costs.

How to fix a cracked tooth

After you have received your diagnosis, your dentist will bring up the forms of treatment to see which one fits your individual needs. Factors such as symptoms and where the crack is located can determine the correct type of treatment. Some of the methods used to treat a cracked tooth include: 

1. Bonding 

With dental bonding, your dentist uses a plastic resin (a sticky organic glue-like substance) to fill the crack and restore the afflicted tooth's function and look. 

2. Crown

A prosthetic device that is usually made of porcelain and ceramic, the dental crown is fitted over the damaged tooth. This procedure requires your dentist to shave off some of the tooth enamel to ensure a proper fit of the crown in your mouth. After that, a tooth impression is made, and a sample of the color that best matches your natural tooth hue is chosen and then sent off to a dental lab for the crown to be created. Modern technology advances have also started to allow some dentists to create a crown on the same day. By maintaining proper care, these protective crowns can last for many years. 

3. Root canal

A root canal may be needed if the crack has reached and caused damage to the pulp of the impacted tooth. Either your dentist, an oral surgeon, or an endodontist may be one of the professionals who performs this procedure. A root canal is done to remove damaged tooth pulp, which can prevent further damage to the tooth, including the development of an infection. 

4. Extraction

If the damage to the tooth’s structure, nerves, and roots is too extensive, a tooth extraction may be the only option to save the rest of your teeth from any further damage. 

Relief for a cracked tooth 

If you can’t see your dentist immediately and you are looking for some pain relief or relief in general from sensitivity or tenderness, there are a few steps you can take for temporary relief. It is important to note these are only temporary forms of aid. The most important and helpful treatment for a cracked tooth is to see your preferred dentist as soon as possible. 

Over-the-counter pain relief medication can help momentarily relieve you from any degree of pain. However, it is best to avoid aspirin if you may need a root canal. You can also try over-the-counter dental anesthetic. This can be used to temporarily numb the tooth and its surrounding area if you are suffering from severe pain. Use as directed, but do not use this medication as a form of treatment. 

Home remedies for a cracked tooth

  • Press an ice pack against your cheek to combat any swelling or painful inflammation.
  • Floss around and between cracked teeth. The removal of plaque or sticky food particles may temporarily reduce some pain but be careful not to poke around too much as this can cause unnecessary trauma to the tooth and gums. 
  • Consider biting down on a piece of gauze over the cracked tooth to prevent any harsh grinding or unnecessary biting, which may cause further pain or damage.  
  • Sleep with your head elevated. If you are going to sleep with a cracked tooth, consider using two pillows to keep your head elevated. This may reduce the pressure around your jaw/teeth.
  • Rinse with warm saltwater. Try and rinse two or three times a day. This mixture may work as an antiseptic to remove bacteria from the afflicted area.

How is a cracked tooth diagnosed?

A crack in the tooth may or may not be visible. The cracks can range from visible to the naked eye to tiny microscopic fractures that barely become visible under the best magnifying glass. If you suspect you have a cracked tooth, it is better to schedule a consultation with your dentist as soon as possible. A dentist will be able to check your tooth out, as well as help relieve you of any uncomfortable symptoms. 

When visiting your preferred dentist and bringing up the possible cracked tooth, the dentist will choose from a variety of ways to spot and diagnose a cracked tooth accurately. Here is what they typically do: 

1. Ask questions

The first thing your dentist may do is ask basic questions regarding your dental history, as well as some of the symptoms you may be experiencing. It is crucial to let your dentist know all symptoms, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem. 

2. Examine the tooth

An examination will then take place, where your dentist may use a magnifying glass to get a close-up view of your teeth to see if the crack is visible. Also, they may pass by each tooth with a dental explorer, which is a tool designed to catch on any rough or cracked edges of the surface of the teeth. During this examination, the dentist may also look for inflammation in the gums to pinpoint the cracked tooth, as well as ask you to bite down gently to identify the source of pain and discomfort. In some cases where a crack is harder to spot, your dentist may apply a dental dye, making cracks more visible. 

3. Do an X-ray 

An x-ray session may also be conducted. Though x-rays don’t necessarily show where cracks have formed, they do reveal problems or damage in the pulp of the teeth. The pulp of the tooth is the soft-center of the tooth where nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissue are found. An unhealthy tooth pulp usually may hint at a cracked tooth.

Types of cracked teeth 

No cracked tooth is the same, and so you must know that there are also different types of cracked teeth that can affect an individual. Understanding the different types of cracks a tooth can develop may make it easier to pinpoint the correct form of treatment needed to relieve pain and other symptoms. Different types of cracked teeth include: 

1. Craze lines

These are super tiny cracks in the tooth’s enamel that cause no pain and generally don’t require treatment. 

2. Cracks that extend into the gum line

A tooth with a vertical crack that hasn't reached the gum line is considered recoverable. However, if the crack extends into the gum line, then you may require the tooth to be extracted. When the crack extends into the gum line, there is a symptom of pain. Fast treatment for this type of crack is the best option to restore the tooth.

3. Fractured cusp

This kind of cracking usually occurs around a dental filling. It does not affect the pulp of the tooth and generally does not cause pain. 

4. Split tooth

A crack that travels all the way down from its surface to below the gum line. Alluding to its name, in this case, the crack causes the tooth to be split into two segments. This is a very extensive crack that needs to be treated promptly and may require some extraction. 

5. Vertical root fracture

This crack is characterized as beginning below the gum line and traveling upwards. It most often does not produce symptoms unless it becomes infected. Tooth extraction may then be necessary. 

Cracked tooth prevention and self-care

Though treatment for a cracked tooth is not possible at home, you can take measures to take care of your teeth and prevent a cracked tooth from happening in the first place. Some of the preventive measures you can choose to fortify your teeth can include the following.

Oral hygiene matters

Maintaining good oral hygiene is the most basic preventative measure you can take. Cracks have a lesser chance of occurring when you have strong, healthy teeth. It is recommended individuals brush twice a day, floss daily, and attend regular six-month checkups with your preferred dentist as a preventive form of oral self-care. 

Play sports? Consider a mouth guard

If you play sports, wear a mouth guard to prevent any trauma to the mouth during practice or actual game play. If you are a serial sleep teeth-grinder, consider wearing a mouth guard as well, just in case. Another habit many people do that they don't even realize they're doing is teeth-clenching. Clenching your teeth can be a sign of stress, so it would also help identify stress-triggers and make an effort to unlearn this mechanism. 

Watch what you chew

If you find yourself biting on your pen cap or pencil while you work, learn to undo this secretly damaging habit. Also, chewing or biting hard foods like nuts, ice, hard candy, and unpopped popcorn kernels can be damaging to your teeth, as well. Consider softer snack alternatives that could also provide benefits for your teeth!

Moving forward with a cracked tooth

A cracked tooth can be a huge cause of anxiety and worry, especially if you've never experienced it before. The pain could be small and subtle, or it may be significant and prevent you from going about your everyday life. If you suspect you are suffering from a cracked tooth, it is important to immediately seek a consultation and treatment from your dentist. This is important, so you don't wind up with a preventable and unnecessary complication like an infection or tooth extraction. 

Taking care of our teeth is extremely crucial, and it can be disconcerting when you’re dealing with the pain and other symptoms of a cracked tooth. Fortunately, now you know what you can do when you are dealing with this type of dental emergency.


This is not dental care advice and should not be substituted for regular consultation with your dentist. If you have any concerns about your dental health, please contact your dentist's office.

Links to external sites are provided for your convenience in locating related information and services. Guardian, its subsidiaries, agents and employees expressly disclaim any responsibility for and do not maintain, control, recommend, or endorse third-party sites, organizations, products, or services and make no representation as to the completeness, suitability, or quality thereof.

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Sources:

1. https://www.dentaly.org/us/chipped-tooth-repair/, 2020 

Brought to you by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian), New York, NY. Material discussed is meant for general illustration and/or informational purposes only and it is not to be construed as tax, legal, investment or medical advice.
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