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Fractured tooth emergency? Here’s what to do

In most cases, fractured tooth conditions are treatable if you see a dentist quickly.

12 minute read

While fracturing your tooth can be distressing, most fractured tooth emergencies are treatable. With the right dental treatment, you can help restore your smile and fix your broken tooth. 

What is a fractured tooth?

Though teeth are tough, they aren’t indestructible. Just like your other bones, teeth can crack or fracture due to trauma, injury, or general wear and tear. When teeth crack or break, this is called a fractured tooth. Treatment for fractured teeth depends on the location, severity, and type of the crack.

Types of tooth fractures

Not all teeth crack in the same way. Some tooth fractures are very serious and require emergency dental attention, while others are minor and may require no treatment at all. These are the five common types of tooth fractures1:

  • Cracked tooth – This occurs when a crack runs from the biting surface of the tooth down towards the root. If the crack is small, it’s sometimes called a hairline tooth fracture. Sometimes the crack can extend below the gum line and into the root. A cracked tooth isn’t completely split into two parts, but it often involves damage to the soft inner tissue of the tooth. If the crack isn’t very deep, this is usually treatable.
  • Craze lines – Craze lines are tiny cracks that only affect the outer layer of the teeth. They are common in all adult teeth and don’t cause any pain. While they’re technically tiny fractures, craze lines don’t constitute a fractured tooth emergency.
  • Fractured cusp – This occurs when a piece of the tooth’s chewing surface breaks or chips off. It often occurs around a filling2 and may be accompanied by a sharp pain in the tooth when biting down. 
  • Vertical root fracture – Vertical root fractures occur when the crack starts at the other end, resulting in a fractured tooth root. They extend upward towards the chewing surface. Fractured tooth roots often don’t show any signs or symptoms, so they’re hard to diagnose3.
  • Split tooth – This usually occurs because of an untreated cracked tooth. In this instance, the tooth is split into two parts. A split tooth typically can’t be saved intact, but your dentist may be able to salvage part of the tooth.

Fractured tooth symptoms

How can you know if you have a fractured tooth? A visible crack, chip, or fracture might be obvious, but some hairline tooth fractures may be hard to detect visually. Any part of the tooth typically can be cracked, not just the part that you can see. Here are a few signs that you might have a fractured tooth4:

  • Sharp pain while eating, especially when chewing or biting down
  • Sudden hot or cold sensitivity
  • Pain that comes and goes
  • Swollen gums around the cracked tooth

Of course, symptoms depend on the type of tooth fracture you have. Your dentist may be able to diagnose your cracked tooth most reliably with an X-ray or a thorough examination to determine the best treatment plan.

Why does a fractured tooth hurt?

Fractured teeth usually hurt if the crack goes deep enough to damage the tooth’s pulp5. This is the inner soft tissue containing the tooth’s nerves and blood vessels, located under the white enamel and a hard layer called the dentin. When the enamel and the dentin are cracked, chewing can cause movement of those pieces, causing the pulp to be irritated. Eventually, the pulp becomes damaged or even infected. This can cause pain while chewing as well as sensitivity .

When to see the dentist about a fractured tooth

The American Dental Association (ADA) considers a fractured tooth a dental emergency6. If you suspect you have a fractured tooth, visit your dentist as soon as possible. Visiting your dentist right away could be the difference between losing or saving a tooth. 

Where to go for emergency dental treatment

If you or a family member has a fractured tooth emergency, call your dentist right away. Most dentists reserve time in their daily schedules to treat emergency patients, so they may be able to see you with no notice at all to make sure you get the emergency treatment you need. If an accident occurs that causes a fractured tooth emergency when your dentist’s office is not open, visit a 24-hour emergency dental clinic or the emergency room if the pain is too severe to wait.

What to do if you have a fractured tooth

If your tooth is cracked or fractured, don’t panic. Here’s is a list of typical ways of how you can avoid discomfort, temporarily relieve pain.

  1. Immediately rinse the mouth with warm water to clean the area.
  2. Call your dentist right away.
  3. See your dentist (or visit an emergency clinic) as soon as possible for emergency treatment.
  4. Put cold compresses on the face to keep swelling down.
  5. Avoid chewing with the affected tooth.
  6. If pain is severe, try safe at-home tooth pain relief remedies such as rinsing with saltwater or taking over-the-counter pain medication.

Fractured teeth can’t typically be fixed without a dentist’s intervention, so the best thing you can do for a fractured tooth is to see a dentist as soon as possible.

What can typically cause a fractured tooth?

Fractured teeth can be caused by many different factors. Emergency tooth fractures are most often caused by trauma or injury, but there are a lot of ways your teeth can break, chip, or crack. Here are a few common causes of fractured teeth7:

  • Biting down too hard on a piece of food
  • Excessive teeth grinding
  • Being hit in the face or the mouth
  • Cavities that weaken the rest of the tooth
  • Large existing fillings that weaken the rest of the tooth

Fractured tooth treatment

How your dentist treats your fractured tooth will typically depend on the location, type, and severity of the crack. As mentioned above, some tooth cracks such as craze lines are harmless and require no treatment at all. Others might require in-depth, invasive treatment – some of which can be expensive. An in-office visit will help your dentist  determine the best method of treatment for your situation, but the following are common ways to treat a fractured tooth8

  • BondingBonding is a dental procedure in which a dentist attaches tooth-colored filling materials to natural teeth. This can help change the shape, fill fractured, or repair areas where the natural tooth chipped off. It’s typically not an invasive procedure, requiring no drilling at all and often completed in just one appointment. Bonding composites can be molded and color-matched to your teeth and don’t typically require much removal of teeth enamel. 
  • CrownsA crown is essentially a cap that sits on top of your tooth to help protect the tooth from further damage while restoring its functionality and look. Crowns can typically be made of many types of materials such as porcelain, composite resin, a combination of porcelain and metal, or a metal alloy. Crowns can typically be color-matched to the rest of your teeth and they’re usually durable.
  • Extractions – If you have a split tooth or a cracked tooth with a fracture extending below the gum line, chances are that the tooth may no longer be treatable and may need to be extracted. Once your tooth extraction heals, your dentist may suggest getting a bridge or a dental implant to replace the tooth, help restore your smile, and support the surrounding teeth.
  • No treatment – Tiny tooth cracks are common, and they often don’t cause any problems down the road. If your tooth fracture or chip is extremely minor, your dentist may recommend no treatment at all. But even if the crack appears tiny to you, it’s still a good idea to visit your dentist so they can check for any additional damage.

Do fractured teeth heal on their own?

Unlike broken bones, tooth fractures do not heal on their own9. Even after treatment for a cracked tooth, your tooth still won’t be completely healed. Some cracks can continue to progress and separate, which can result in tooth loss. Certain tooth fracture treatments such as crowns or veneers can help provide protection, but they don’t always guarantee success. After you’ve received treatment for your cracked tooth, it’s important to continue visiting your dentist regularly so they can observe any changes.

How much does fixing a fractured tooth cost?

The cost of fixing a fractured tooth emergency can vary depending on the type of treatment you require, the location of the crack, and the severity of the crack. Most types of fractured tooth treatment are covered by dental insurance, so dental insurance coverage can help minimize the cost.

Depending on where your live, the price of teeth bonding ranges from $100 to $600 per tooth10

The price of veneers might be anywhere from $250 to $2,500 per tooth, depending on the material used11. Many dental insurance plans don’t typically  cover the cost of veneers since they’re considered a cosmetic dentistry procedure but check with your insurance provider.

If you don’t have dental insurance provided by an employer or other group plan, you may want to purchase individual dental insurance coverage. You never know when a fractured tooth emergency might arise, but when it does, it’s best to be prepared financially. 

How to prevent tooth fractures

As with most dental conditions, when possible it’s always better to prevent tooth fractures than it is to treat them. Though not all fractured teeth are completely preventable, following these tips can help make your teeth less susceptible to fractures12:

  • Don’t chew on hard objects such as popcorn kernels, ice, or pens.
  • Don’t clench or grind your teeth.
  • Wear a mouthguard or protective mask when playing contact sports.
  • Don’t use your teeth as tools. For example, to cut masking tape. 
  • Practice good oral hygiene at home by brushing your teeth twice a day, cleaning between your teeth daily, and limiting consumption of sugary foods and drinks13
  • Visit the dentist regularly twice a year.

Tooth fractures can be a serious problem, but they’re usually treatable if you visit the dentist right away. If you or a family member experiences a fractured tooth emergency, contact your dentist immediately. They will be able to quickly help diagnose the problem and hopefully save the tooth before the crack gets worse.

 

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.dentalhealth.org/cracked-teeth, accessed September 2020
2. https://www.healthline.com/health/cracked-tooth, 2018
3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4001262/, 2014
4. https://www.healthline.com/health/cracked-tooth, 2018
5. https://www.aae.org/patients/dental-symptoms/cracked-teeth, accessed September 2020
6. https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/dental-care-concerns/dental-emergencies, accessed September 2020
7. http://www.ada.org/~/media/ADA/Publications/Files/patient_25.ashx, 2003
8. https://www.healthline.com/health/cracked-tooth, 2018
9. https://www.aae.org/patients/dental-symptoms/cracked-teeth, accessed September 2020
10. https://askthedentist.com/bonded-teeth, 2020
11. https://www.yourdentistryguide.com/veneer-procedure, 2019
12. https://www.aae.org/patients/dental-symptoms/cracked-teeth, accessed September 2020
13. https://www.ada.org/en/member-center/oral-health-topics/home-care, 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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