If you have cracked a tooth, it may require immediate attention. Or it may not. But how can you tell? Here are some factors to consider before deciding whether to get treatment or not.
How Serious Was the Incident?
A tooth rarely chips for no reason at all. At a minimum, a tooth may chip when you’re biting down on some food and encountered an unexpectedly hard object. In that case, you may not need to see a dentist if there are no other signs of trouble.
But if you were involved in a car/bike/sporting accident that was serious enough for you to seek medical attention, you should probably see a dentist for your chipped tooth. Do this even if the doctor says they think your tooth is fine: they’re not dental experts, and it’s better not to risk your tooth.
Is the Tooth Sensitive?
If the chip damaged your tooth to the extent that your tooth nerve is somewhat exposed, then it needs attention. Your tooth may be sensitive to cold, such as drawing air in sharply or eating ice cream. Or it may be sensitive to heat such as sipping a cup of coffee. Or it may be sensitive to pressure, such as chewing or clenching your teeth during physical activity. If your tooth is sensitive to any of these stimuli, it needs attention.
Does the Tooth Hurt?
Other times, your tooth may not respond to heat or cold, but may have a persistent dull throb. This is not necessarily a concern for a day after a minor trauma–just take an over-the-counter pain reliever that addresses swelling, like ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve). But if it doesn’t respond to these medications or persists for more than a few days, it’s time to talk to a dentist.
Is the Tooth a Different Color Inside?
A minor chip in the enamel may not need attention, but if you’ve broken your tooth down to the dentin or the pulp, it needs attention. Having exposed pulp is a very serious situation, and if it’s not treated quickly, the tooth can become infected. If treated quickly, a root canal can save the tooth, but putting treatment off too long can put the tooth (and others) at risk.
Are You Bothered by the Appearance or Feel of the Chip?
There is also the appearance of your smile to consider. If you are unhappy with the appearance or the feeling of a sharp edge on the cracked or chipped tooth, a cosmetic dentist can help. There are both short-term and long-term fixes for chipped teeth to fit any budget, and often you can get your tooth repaired in one visit.
Remember, Teeth Can Be Cracked in the Root, Too
It’s also important to remember that just because you can’t see a crack doesn’t mean it isn’t there. A serious trauma to a tooth can cause a crack in the root of the tooth. Unfortunately, if a tooth is cracked in the root, it usually can’t be saved, but has to be extracted and replaced with a dental implant.
A tooth cracked in the root may be hard to identify, but watch out for signs of an infected tooth after experiencing a tooth trauma.
Do You Need Help with a Cracked Tooth?