Thanks to advances in preventive care and restorations, people are maintaining their natural teeth longer than ever. However, repetitive forces through normal daily function or abnormal clenching and grinding, can initiate small cracks in the tooth. Then, like a chip in a car windshield, they don’t ever go away, but can often get bigger over time. As cracks progress, they can be a pathway for bacteria to get into the pulp inside the tooth, and start to cause pain and infection. This can often be treated with root canal treatment and a crown, but sometimes the cracks are too deep to repair, and a tooth may need to be pulled and replaced.
The best way to prevent cracks is to avoid harmful habits like chewing ice, or anything hard that you crunch on like old maids in the popcorn, hard candies, etc. If you clench or grind your teeth at night, talk to your dentist about wearing a nightguard which can help protect your teeth. If your dentist finds small cracks in your teeth, they may recommend a restoration to cover the biting surface of the tooth and help protect it, which may keep the cracks from getting worse.
Types of Cracks
These are tiny cracks that only affect the outer enamel of the tooth. These cracks are more common in adults. These types of cracks are superficial and are usually of no concern.
When a cusp becomes weakened, a fracture may result. The cusp may break off or be removed by a dentist. A fractured cusp rarely damages the pulp, so root canal is not necessary. Your dentist will usually restore the tooth with a full crown.
Treatable Cracked Tooth
This type of crack extends from the chewing surface of the tooth and vertically migrates towards the root. In some cases, the crack may extend below the gum line. It is possible for the crack to extend further into the root. Damage to the pulp is commonplace. In this case, root canal treatment is usually necessary. A cracked tooth that is not treated will worsen, resulting in the loss of the tooth. Therefore, early detection is essential.
A split tooth is usually the result of an untreated cracked tooth. It can be identified by a crack with distinct segments. This type of tooth can never be saved intact. Yet, the position and extent of the problem will dictate whether any portion of the tooth can be saved. Sometimes, endodontic retreatment by the doctors and restoration by your dentist can be used to save a portion of the tooth.
Vertical Root Fracture
A vertical root fracture begins at the root and extends towards the chewing surface of the tooth. Unfortunately, they show minimal symptoms and may go unnoticed. Treatment involves endodontic surgery if a portion of the tooth can be saved by removal of the fractured root. Otherwise, the tooth will have to be extracted.