Let’s say you’re enjoying a movie night out with friends. You happily begin to munch on that popcorn you’re all sharing when – pow! – sharp pain in a back molar rears its ugly head. The problem? It may well be a cracked tooth.
Cracking a tooth, unfortunately, is not hard to do. A crack can be initiated by chewing on hard, crunchy foods like that popcorn you happen to be enjoying, or that refreshing chipped ice that you decide to chew rather than leave in the glass.
As most parents are ruefully aware, physical accidents at any age can also cause a cracked tooth, especially for young athletes and sports team players. For kids, even a bit of casual horseplay at the school water fountain can result in a crack from an unfortunately-timed blow to the mouth. With accidents, diagnosis from the dental chair is often straightforward, though treatment strategies can range from simple to complex.
As we get older, other issues can set the stage for cracking. Habitual tooth-grinding (bruxism)or clenching or an uneven bite over time can lead to cracking—a.k.a. cracked tooth syndrome. Large fillings or other restorations that wear down tooth structure can eventually cause a crack. Interestingly, even exposing tooth enamel to extreme hot and cold food or beverages, especially in succession—for example, following a brain-freezing ice cream cone with a hot cup of coffee—can cause a crack. These problems can be more difficult to diagnose and treat.
On the other hand, a cracked tooth can become a large and expensive problem if left untreated. Crazing or superficial stress lines in a tooth can eventually widen into surface cracks that may require repairing the tooth with filling material and possibly placing a crown to protect the tooth from further damage.
With time and/or pressure on an untreated, deepening crack the fracture may extend into the root of the tooth, exposing the pulp, the living tissue within the tooth. In this case, saving the tooth will probably require endodontic or root canal treatment. Once a crack has extended below the gum line into the root, the damage is no longer repairable. The tooth cannot be saved and will need to be extracted.
Understandably, even the suspicion of a cracked tooth should trigger an alarm bell. So let’s go back to the movie theater for a minute. In the event, how do you determine that you actually have cracked a tooth? Here are just a few telling symptoms to note:
- As you bite down you feel localized sharp pain that disappears quickly.
- A certain food seems to trigger pain in one area of your mouth.
- The pain is not continuous – as a cavity-caused toothache would be.
- One localized area of your mouth or a particular tooth is more sensitive to cold.
If you are feeling any of these symptoms, or any combination of them, please make a note of them as they are happening. Then call us immediately for an appointment. Be sure to bring your symptom list to the appointment to help us quickly pinpoint the problem. Early treatment is absolutely crucial to resolving cracked tooth syndrome. Our treatment goal is to diagnose and treat the crack at its earliest possible stage, before it can threaten the life of your tooth.
Obviously you cannot completely prevent cracked tooth syndrome in yourself or your family members. Life happens. However, you can reduce the chances of a crack materializing with some basic fundamentals:
- Avoid chewing ice, popcorn kernels, all-day suckers or other hard foods (and objects).
- Try not to clench or grind your teeth (meditation and breathing exercises might be helpful)
- If you do clench or grind your teeth, especially in your sleep, talk to us about using a night guard (both at night and during the day whenever possible).
- When playing contact sports, always wear a mouth guard or mask.
- Set up regular, six-month cleaning/dental exams for yourself and your family. Occasionally, cracked tooth syndrome will exhibit no noticeable symptoms at all. Regular checkups enable our team to uncover and treat issues early, before they can wreak havoc on your smile and your pocketbook.