A tooth fracture is a break or crack in the hard shell of the tooth. The outer shell of the tooth is called the enamel. It protects the softer inner pulp of the tooth that contains nerves and blood vessels. Depending on the type of fracture, the tooth may not cause any problems or it may cause pain.
Types of tooth fractures include:
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Chewing on hard foods or accidentally biting down on a hard object can lead to a crack in the tooth. Teeth can also be fractured with a blow to the face that can occur with a car accident or during a sporting event.
Factors that may increase your risk of tooth fractures include:
Not all tooth fractures cause symptoms. For example, craze lines rarely cause problems.
Other fractures may expose the sensitive pulp to fluid, food, and bacteria in the mouth. It can cause irritation or infection in the pulp. This can lead to:
Vertical root fractures may not be noticed until a bone or gum infection develops.
A fracture may not be seen with the naked eye. Your dentist will ask about your symptoms. You may be asked:
You may not able to identify the exact tooth that has a fracture. Your doctor will look for the fracture based on your feedback. To help locate the fracture or determine the extent to the fracture your dentist may do the following test:
Early diagnosis may help save the tooth before the fracture progresses.
Teeth cannot heal. The treatment goal is to protect the tooth including the pulp interior.
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. The treatment will depend on the severity of damage to the tooth. Options may include:
To reduce your chance of fracturing a tooth, take these steps:
American Association of Endodontists
American Dental Association—Mouth Healthy
Canadian Dental Association
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Diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis of cracked teeth. Iowa dental association website. Available at: http://www.iowaden... . Updated May 6, 2011. Accessed April 10, 2013.
Do you have a cracked tooth? American Dental Association website. Available at: http://www.ada.org/sections/publicResources/pdfs/patient_25.pdf . Published April 2003. Accessed April 10, 2013.
Salvi V. Cracked tooth syndrome. Available at: http://www.dentaltreatment.org/cracked_tooth_syndrom.pdf . Accessed April 10, 2013.
Last reviewed February 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 3/18/2013