Maybe you bit down on a popcorn seed. Maybe you fell down the stairs and hit the deck, face-first. Or maybe other dental issues have weakened your enamel over time.
Whatever the cause, having a cracked tooth is no picnic. Even if your tooth does not hurt immediately, the nerve inside the tooth may become damaged over time if the situation is not addressed—and then, it really will be painful.
There is no way to treat a cracked tooth at home—so your best bet is to set up an appointment with your dentist office. While you wait for your appointment, here’s a general idea of what might be wrong and what you can expect.
Broken Tooth Pain
Your dentist’s first priority will be assessing the damage to your tooth’s nerve. If the tooth is significantly broken, the pain you experience will be enough evidence that it is. You will then likely have to receive a root canal to remove the nerve.
If the root is undamaged, treatment will vary according to the type of tooth fracture or break. Below are some of the most common types of cracked teeth.
Minor Tooth Cracks
Also called “craze lines”, these minor surface cracks only affect the surface enamel of the tooth. Oftentimes, they do not require treatment at all, so your dentist may only polish the area to smooth out any rough spots.
If a tooth is truly cracked from the chewing surface all the way down to the nerve, it will require filling material at the very least. Cracked teeth also usually require a crown; without one, the tooth will continue splitting as pressure is applied to it, like a piece of firewood.
The cusps of the teeth are the pointed chewing surfaces of the molars and premolars. Since cusp breaks usually do not affect the tooth’s pulp, they typically do not cause much pain. However, you may want to repair the damage to restore the tooth’s shape and ensure easier chewing. Sometimes an onlay or a crown will be required.
Serious tooth breaks run deeply enough to expose the nerve. Needless to say, they are very painful. If you have suffered a serious tooth break, you will require a root canal and a crown to restore the tooth to normal function.
A split tooth is one that has split vertically, like a piece of firewood. In order to save the tooth, your dentist will first determine which parts of the root can be saved. (Some teeth, like the molars, have multiple roots.) The dentist will remove any roots that cannot be kept with a root canal and cover the tooth with a crown. If the tooth is still painful, it may require an extraction.
Unlike most tooth cracks, vertical breaks develop in the root of the tooth and move upwards. In most cases, the tooth will have to be removed.
In some cases, the tooth has broken because a cavity weakened it from the inside out. Your dentist will be able to recommend the best way to treat the cavity and restore the tooth. If the decay is extensive, the tooth may need to be removed.