Our smiles are beautiful sculptures meant to last a lifetime (after all the enamel is the hardest substance in the human body!) However even the Eiffel Tower is prone to a few cracks here and there. Cracks occur because of impounded stress on our teeth due to chewing, clenching, or grinding on hard objects. If you believe that you may have a cracked tooth, seek immediate treatment as the problem could become rapidly worse.
What are symptoms of a cracked tooth?
Tell-tale signs of a cracked tooth include irregular pain while chewing or when biting pressure is released and pain while the tooth is exposed to hot and cold temperatures. Because the pain may be present one day and gone the next, it may be difficult determining the exact location of the tooth that is causing the discomfort.
Why is it so painful?
To understand the source of the pain is to understand the anatomy of the tooth. Underneath the enamel and dentin lies the interior soft tissue called the pulp. This inner composition of the tooth is home to the structure’s blood vessels and nerves. The pulp becomes irritated because when the outer tissues become cracked, the pieces move, which damages the fragile interior. Eventually, it becomes so damaged that it cannot heal itself any longer, thus making it painful to chew and drink hot/cold liquids or foods. It is vital to seek immediate dental attention if these symptoms occur, as extensive cracks allow bacteria to enter the tooth and infect the pulp tissue. This infection has the ability to spread to the surrounding bone and gum tissues.
If the cracked tooth extends vertically from the surface of the tooth to the root then it can be treated with a root canal procedure. However, if the crack extends below the gum line, such as in the picture to the left, then the tooth cannot be saved and must be extracted.
After treatment, will my tooth be restored completely?
Unlike a broken bone, which will heal itself over time, cracked teeth cannot heal. Placing a crown on the tooth relieves pain and reduces the chance of the crack worsening, however success is not guaranteed and, in some cases, the tooth may continue to separate resulting in the extraction of said tooth. In most cases, once the tooth is treated it will be able to function normally and provide years of comfortable chewing.
To prevent cracked teeth, avoid chewing on hard objects such as unpopped popcorn kernels and ice, refrain from clenching/grinding your teeth, and wear a mouthguard while playing contact sports.