Cracked Teeth

Clenching, grinding and chewing on hard surfaces make teeth more susceptible to cracks. Although all dentists receive training to diagnose and treat cracked teeth, some cracked teeth may be difficult to diagnose and involve root canal therapy. Endodontists are trained to identify and treat unusual dental pain. In most cases, cracked tooth pain occurs because the pulp is damaged. Root canal treatment can alleviate pain.

Why does a cracked tooth hurt?

When the outer, hard tissues of a tooth are cracked, the pulp can become irritated, due to chewing. In fact, chewing can continuously irritate the pulp. Ultimately, the pulp can become damaged, to the point that it can no longer heal on its own. In this case, the tooth will not only hurt when chewing it may develop a sensitivity to temperature extremes. Overtime, a cracked tooth will just hurt. Severe cracks can cause the pulp tissue to become infected, and that infection can spread to the gum and bone around the tooth.

Types of Tooth Fractures

Craze Lines

Craze lines are shallow and cause no pain. These tiny cracks affect only the outer enamel of a tooth, and are very common among adults.

Fractured Cusp

The cusp is the pointed part of a tooth’s chewing surface. If it becomes weak, it can fracture. The cusp may break off on its own or have to be removed by a general dentist. When the cusp breaks off or is removed, the pain usually goes away. Generally, a fractured cusp does not damage the pulp, and thus a root canal is not needed. A dentist can restore the tooth with a full crown.

Cracked Tooth

With a cracked tooth, typically, the crack extends from the chewing surface towards the root. Because of this, the pulp can become damaged, and a root canal is needed. After the root canal, a dentist can restore the tooth by placing a full crown. If the crack extends below the gum line, the tooth must be extracted. In order to save a cracked tooth, early diagnosis is important. Unfortunately, it is sometimes difficult to identify the extent of a cracked tooth. If not treated, the crack will progressively get worse, and must be extracted.

Split Tooth

Split tooth is often the result of a cracked tooth that has progressively gotten worse. A split tooth cannot be saved in one piece. The extent and position of the crack determines what portion of the tooth, if any, can be saved. Rarely, endodontic treatment and a crown or other restoration can save a portion of a split tooth.

Vertical Root Fracture

Vertical root fractures begin in the root and extend toward the chewing surface of the tooth. Because, they show very little signs and symptoms, these fractures may go unnoticed for awhile. They are often identified when the bone and gum around the affected tooth becomes infected. Generally, the tooth must be extracted. However, endodontic surgery may be performed if a portion of the tooth can possibly be saved.

Does a cracked tooth heal completely?

Unfortunately, no. Even with treatment, some cracks may continue to progress and separate, resulting in tooth loss. A crown provides maximum protection to a treated tooth, but does not necessarily guarantee success in every case.

Whatever treatment you receive is important. It will alleviate pain and reduce the possibility that the crack will progressively get worse. After treatment, most cracked teeth function properly for years.