What is a tooth fracture?
Dental fractures are any damages that occur to your teeth due to accidents, falls, or even injuries from sports. When you bite down on something hard like ice or candy, your tooth can’t withstand the force and sometimes a part of it cracks. Decays and cavities can weaken your teeth, making them more likely to break or crack, resulting in a fractured tooth.
Your fractured tooth (also called cracked or broken tooth) may sound scary, but don’t worry. A timely visit to the dentist can easily restore your tooth.
Why does a tooth fracture hurt?
To understand why your tooth hurts from a fracture, let’s first look at the anatomy of a tooth.
The tooth has three layers:
- The outer ENAMEL
- The middle DENTIN
- The innermost PULP
While the enamel of your tooth is the hardest substance in your body, the pulp is soft tissue, with nerves and blood vessels, making it extremely sensitive.
A minor tooth fracture usually means only the enamel of the tooth has chipped or cracked. A deeper fracture indicates that both the enamel and the dentin are involved. When the pulp gets affected, it can lead to serious issued like infection and abscess.
If you get a tooth fracture that affects the dentin and the pulp then you need to consult a doctor immediately.
What are the types of tooth fractures?
- Craze Lines
These are tiny vertical cracks that affect the outer enamel of the teeth of most adults. Crazy lines don’t cause any harm and are only a cosmetic problem. No treatments are required for craze lines.
2. Fractured cusp
When a part of the tooth’s chewing surface breaks off, it’s called a fractured cusp. This horizontal fracture is usually found on filled double teeth.
Depending on how much of the tooth is safe, fractured cusps can be treated by applying fillings or crowns that cover the crack margin.
In some cases, dentin and enamel bonding can also protect the cusp from damage.
In severe cases where the crack affects the pulp of the tooth, a root canal treatment will be needed.
3. Cracked tooth
A cracked tooth is when a crack extends from the chewing surface (enamel) of the crown to the root of the tooth. Cracked teeth are often described as incomplete fractures.
A cracked tooth is sometimes difficult to detect as the tooth is still wedged together and the cracked parts do not move, as in the case of the split tooth or fractured cusps. If left untreated, a cracked tooth can worsen and result in loss of the tooth.
At the early stages of cracks, crowns can help keep the tooth safe, but the cracked tooth may eventually evolve into splits and require extraction.
4. Split tooth
A cracked tooth that is left untreated can result in a split tooth. In this case, the tooth splits into distinct segments, causing direct damage to the root layer and making it difficult to save the tooth.
If the split is severe, then the tooth needs to be extracted.
In cases of smaller degrees of splits, the tooth segments that are fragile can be removed, salvaging the rest of the tooth
5. Vertical root fracture
A vertical root fracture is a complete or incomplete fracture that starts from the root of the tooth. For VRF, there are no symptoms and the fracture is only discovered when the surrounding bone and gum become infected.
Nothing can be done to save the tooth and extraction is the only option.
Vertical fractures are often seen in teeth that have had root canal therapy.
How are tooth fractures treated?
For small chips on the tooth, bonding is done to protect the chipped tooth. In this process, a resin material is applied on the tooth and shaped to fill the area where the tooth is chipped.
Tooth bonding preserves the natural look of the tooth and can be done in a single visit to the dentist. For small chippings, this is a good permanent solution.
For better cosmetic results veneers can be used for chipped and broken teeth. Veneers are strong and usually last a long time. Veneers are custom created by either biting down on impression material or using 3D scans to get the best shape and size that suits your tooth appearance and smile.
The veneers are then bonded to the tooth over a period of two weeks, giving your smile a completely natural look.
A minor tooth fracture only involves chipping of the enamel. If there is no bleeding of the gums and the tooth appears to be stable, then a dental filling or crown can be placed to restore the shape of the tooth.
For minor fractures, the risk of pulp injury is low, and there won’t be any sensitivity to food or temperature.
Crowns, similar to veneers, are tooth coloured covers for your tooth. While veneers are designed to cover only a part of the tooth, crowns cover the entire tooth, as is required in the case of significant tooth loss.
Applying a crown to the tooth requires anaesthetics to numb the area, before removing a small portion of the decayed tooth, to make room for the crown.
The crown to be placed is custom-made depending on the size, shape and location of the affected tooth. Once ready, the crown is cemented into place, as a permanent solution.
Some fractures may lead to loose tooth and bleeding of gums. In such cases, the dentist uses splints for the loose tooth by bonding it to an adjacent tooth for stability while the bone and gums heal.
The splint is usually a temporary measure while the gum heals and the tooth becomes stable. In case of permanent splints, the affected tooth is crowned and then the crowns are splinted together.
When a serious fracture occurs, it leaves the injured tooth unstable and it can’t be restored by dental procedures. In case of fractures to the tooth at the gum line, the injured tooth is extracted and replaced with a dental implant.
First, the implant (which looks like a screw) is placed in the jaw where it bonds with the bone over the next few months to form an anchor for your false tooth.
A replacement tooth, custom-made for you, is attached to the implant, creating a natural-looking solution that is long-lasting.
When will my tooth heal completely?
Unlike the bones in our body, our teeth do not have the ability to heal. After your dental treatment is done, it is crucial that you take care of your oral hygiene and visit your dentist regularly to keep track of the health of your teeth.
Author: Manju Athilat
Manju is our resident content writer. With a masters degree in biomedical engineering and a passion for healthcare, she authors content with a focus on living a healthy lifestyle and practicing preventive health.