Your tooth enamel is the strongest substance in your body, but it does have limits. There are many ways that your teeth can be damaged, and the damage may be minor or extensive, depending on the type of injury and the condition of your teeth.
A chipped tooth is the most common type of dental injury and can cause issues with the aesthetics of your teeth, as well as your oral health. Additionally, a chipped tooth may be sensitive to extreme temperatures, and you may experience pain while chewing along with random waves of pain. On the other hand, you may not have any symptoms beyond a visible crack or chip out of the tooth.
Treatment depends on the extent of the damage and the health of the tooth. Many times, a small crack/chip is easily repaired, while others may require extensive treatment.
In this article, we will explain the difference between a chipped tooth and a cracked tooth, as well as when you should see a dentist, the various treatment options and their costs, and how to prevent cracks or chips in the future.
What is the Difference between a Chipped Tooth and a Cracked Tooth?
While similar, these two tooth injuries are different.
Typically, a crack starts near the gumline and moves toward the chewing surface, but the tooth remains in one piece. In some cases, the fracture may only be detected with a microscope by a dentist. A severe crack may extend through the entire tooth from the chewing surface to the root and may be seen without any instruments.
A chipped tooth, on the other hand, has a piece broken out of it. The piece may be small or large and may happen due to facial trauma from a sports injury, accident, or fall or from biting into something hard or using teeth as tools.
When Should You See a Dentist?
Both cracked and chipped teeth should be treated as soon as possible to prevent further damage and avoid additional complications. If left untreated, the tooth could become permanently damaged and require extraction.
There are several types of cracked teeth, including:
- Fractured cusp: a piece of the chewing surface breaks off, most common in molars
- Cracked tooth: crack extends across the tooth from the chewing surface to the gumline
- Split tooth: crack completely splits the tooth into two or more pieces
- Vertical root fracture: begins at the root and spreads to the chewing surface, usually have no symptoms but cause the most damage
- Craze lines: tiny, visible, shallow cracks on the surface of the tooth, impact appearance but do not require treatment
For most types of chipped/cracked teeth, treatment is critical to prevent further damage and complications. Craze lines do not require treatment, as they only impact the appearance of the teeth, not the functionality.
Any time you have a chip in your tooth that reveals the root or the tooth pulp, or causes extreme pain, it is considered a dental emergency. Most dental clinics have space in their schedules for emergency appointments or have an after-hours number that you can call if the clinic is closed.
Treatments for Chipped Tooth
Once your teeth are damaged, they do not regenerate or repair themselves. You will need treatment to prevent further damage or complications. There are several treatment options, depending on the type and severity of the crack and how much of the tooth is affected.
The purpose of treatment is to relieve pain and to prevent the crack from worsening. The treatment options for cracked tooth include:
A dental crown is a tooth-shaped cap that fits on the tooth. Many times, a temporary crown may be used. While not the most effective long-term treatment, a temporary crown does change the way teeth fit together when biting down, which prevents further damage.
Dental fillings, commonly used for cavities, may also be used to restore and protect a fractured tooth. This treatment option is most often used on the bite surface of a molar. A dental filling may be made of silver amalgam, composite resin, ceramic, glass ionomer, or gold.
A dental veneer is a thin shell that is placed on a tooth to restore its appearance and offer some protection against further damage. Veneers may be made of porcelain or composite resin and are custom-made to match the surrounding teeth.
If the crack or chip extends into the root of the tooth, the infection may get into the root and the dental pulp. In this case, a root canal may be needed to remove the infected pulp and damaged portion of the tooth.
Following root canal treatment, a crown will be placed on the tooth to protect the structure from further damage.
If a tooth is significantly damaged, a permanent crown may be required. This will protect the tooth against further damage, as well as strengthen it.
Average Cost of Chipped Tooth Repair Procedures
On average, the cost of a chipped tooth repair procedure ranges from a few hundred dollars to $1,200 or more for a root canal and/or dental crown. Most insurance providers will cover cracked tooth repair, except in the case of dental veneers. Dental veneers are cosmetic procedures, which means they are elective.
You can check with your dental insurance provider to learn more about your coverage and get an idea of what you can expect to pay for your treatment. If cost is a concern, you can speak with your dental care provider about creating a budget-friendly treatment plan or financing options. Dental financing will break your procedure cost up into payments that better fit into your budget, allowing you to receive the treatments you need instead of putting them off.
Tips for Preventing Cracks or Chips in Your Teeth
While there is no way to 100% guarantee that you will never crack or chip a tooth, there are some things you can do to reduce your risk. These include:
- Wearing a mouthguard when participating in contact sports or other recreational activities
- Avoid using teeth as tools
- Avoid biting down on foods that are known to cause tooth damage such as hard candies, popcorn kernels, and ice
- Visit the dentist every 6 months for an exam and cleaning
- Practice proper oral care habits, including brushing at least twice daily and flossing at least once
Caring for a Chipped Tooth
If your tooth is damaged in any way, it’s important to see a dentist as soon as possible to avoid further damage. If left untreated, a chipped tooth may become infected and ultimately require extraction.
A chipped tooth can be painful and can be detrimental to your oral and overall health, but prompt treatment can avoid these issues.
However, if you are unable to get into the dentist immediately, there are some things you can do at home to care for your chipped tooth:
- Rinse with saltwater
- Take an OTC pain reliever
- Cover any sharp/jagged edges with dental wax or sugarless chewing gum to avoid cutting your tongue, lips, or cheek
- Stick to a soft food diet and avoid chewing directly on the affected tooth