Dental Care

Tooth Fracture - Basic Information

A tooth fracture, how does it occur? Teeth are remarkably strong and are able to withstand a great deal of pressure.

However, it's not uncommon for teeth to fracture, crack, chip or break because of a traumatic blow to the face or the teeth themselves.

This type of injury often occurs because of a fall, a sports injury or an automobile accident.

A dental fracture, chip or crack can also be caused by biting down on hard substances (nuts, hard candy, ice cubes or pencils, etc.) or if a cavity has weakened the tooth.

No matter what causes a damaged tooth, however, it should always be evaluated and treated by a dental professional. Accident victims and others who sustain significant injuries to their head, neck or face should be treated in a hospital emergency room.

Oral surgeons are on staff at most hospitals, and they are capable of performing emergency tooth extractions and dental reconstructions.

Different Cases

Dental injuries can vary in severity. A tooth might remain in place but be fractured, chipped or cracked, it might be loosened and displaced from its normal position in the jaw, or it might be knocked completely out of the mouth.

If you experience one of these types of tooth damage, you might experience some pain along with swelling of the gums near the damaged tooth. To alleviate this pain and swelling until you are able to receive dental treatment, place ice cubes or cold packs in your mouth directly over the affected tooth. Depending on the location of your damaged tooth, you can also try applying ice cubes or cold packs to the outside of your cheeks or lips.

Smaller Damage

Like dental injuries in general, dental fractures can vary in severity. Minor fractures, involving chipping of a tooth's protective enamel (the very hard, white, outermost layer of the tooth), may not cause any initial pain or sensitivity to hot or cold liquids or foods.

These minor tooth fractures can even go unnoticed, at least for a while. The tooth is not loosened, displaced knocked out, and generally the gums do not bleed. Often, the only symptom of a minor tooth fracture is a rough or sharp edge which over time irritates the cheek and/or the tongue. In almost every case involving a minor tooth fracture, dental X-rays must be taken in order to confirm the fracture, locate it precisely and measure its size and severity.

A tooth's enamel and dentin (the yellowish layer just beneath the tooth's hard outer layer of enamel) provide important protection for the living tissue inside the tooth (the pulp).

Although the tooth's layer of protective enamel is chipped in a minor tooth fracture, there is little risk of injury to the soft internal pulp. Obtaining dental treatment for the fractured tooth is, therefore, important but not urgent.

You can prevent irritation of your tongue or cheek from occurring before you get to the dentist by applying a small piece orthodontic wax (if you don't have any, try a piece of sugarless gum) over the rough edges of the tooth.

Once you arrive at your dentist's office, he or she will probably repair your fractured tooth permanently by selecting one of several methods. Depending on the location and severity of the tooth and the damage, your dentist will probably fill the tooth with dental amalgam, give you a gold or porcelain crown, or cap the tooth. The selected treatment will protect the tooth's pulp and restore its smooth contours.

Bigger Damage

More severe tooth fractures, where the tooth's root is vertically, diagonally or horizontally fractured, can be much more painful because the damage can affect the nerve inside the tooth.

A severe dental fracture might cause part of the tooth to break off, exposing the tooth's dentin and pulp. Dental treatment of these types of tooth damage should be obtained as soon as possible. The pain resulting from a severe tooth fracture might be constant or intermittent, but it's frequently painful to chew because chewing applies pressure to the broken tooth.

The tooth might be loosened and your gums might bleed. Your dentist might be able to prevent a loose tooth from falling out by splinting and bonding it to the adjacent teeth.

This procedure can help stabilize your loose tooth until your gums and bone heal up.

Pulp death is a significant risk following a severe tooth fracture, so your dentist might need to perform a root canal procedure as soon as possible after the initial trauma.


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