Although chipping or breaking a tooth may seem entirely avoidable, it’s actually one of the most common dental problems and can happen for a whole host of reasons — some of which are, er, pretty preventable.
Not preventable (usually)? Chipping or breaking a tooth as a result of being injured or struck in the mouth. Usually, you don’t see a rogue baseball or something like that coming! Clenching and grinding your teeth also might seem unpreventable, because this behavior is usually done in one’s sleep. However, these conditions are treatable — you can learn more about it here.
Now, onto the most preventable causes of breakage. First up: chewing on hard objects or opening things with your teeth. We know how tempting it is to bite down on that hard candy, and sometimes it’s just so easy to open that bag of chips with your chompers. Trust us, it’s worth it to resist. You’ll end up spending a whole lot more time and money dealing with a broken tooth than you will finishing that candy or take a few extra seconds to open that bag with your hands.
Finally, tooth decay is another leading cause of breakage. This occurs when, over time, bacteria break through the enamel and dentin and weaken the tooth. As you bite, the stress on the tooth becomes greater and the weakened part of the tooth becomes more prone to breaking off. All it takes is one untimely bite in a hard piece of food and poof — that breakage becomes complete.
It may come as no surprise, but there’re actually many different classifications of cracks, chips, and breaks. Most breaks start out as cracks, fault lines that form in the teeth. Minor cracks are called craze lines, and they only affect the outer enamel. These cracks are painless, but can appear as dark lines on the tooth and can be visually unappealing.
Cracked teeth may not seem like a big problem, but they do need to be treated. Otherwise, the force from biting and general wear and tear over time will make the crack bigger and more prone to infection — and, of course, makes the tooth more prone to breaking.
There are three different classes of chips. Class I effect only the enamel and can often be repaired by filing and reshaping the tooth, or by using resins to replace the missing piece. Class II chips are fractured through the dentin, which is the layer of material that comes after the enamel. These chips usually cause sensitivity to temperatures, as the tubules that lead to the nerves are exposed. These kinds of chips can also sometimes be fixed by bonding or with resins, though sometimes they require more extensive treatment. Finally, class 3 chips are fractured all the way through the enamel and dentin and into the pulp chamber. This exposes the nerve and blood vessels inside the tooth, which can be very painful. These chips can only be repaired through a root canal procedure, which you can learn all about here. This is also considered a severe break and requires immediate attention, as the exposed area can easily become infected.
One final issue to discuss is cracked tooth syndrome. This is caused when large fillings weaken the remaining tooth, as fillings can degrade and loosen. Silver fillings, in particular, are known to expand, which causes the tooth to further weaken. Over time, the filling can cause additional cracks in the tooth to develop, which can develop into a break due to repeated pressure and force from biting and chewing. A tooth affected by cracked tooth syndrome may also become more sensitive and painful over time as the cracks widen and the nerves become more exposed.
Cracking, chipping, or breaking a tooth can be difficult to deal with, especially if it’s a severe break or if it affects a visible tooth. However, although these kinds of issues are very common and there are many ways to repair what’s broken, the most important thing is to treat the cause of the break. Make sure to work with your dentist to get any grinding or clenching under control, be careful not to bite hard candies or other hard foods, don’t open packages with your teeth, and practice good, regular oral hygiene to prevent breakdown and decay. Seems like a tall order? With a little more time, patience, and some extra brushing, you’ll be able to keep your teeth and your smile intact and in perfect working order.