Chipped or Cracked Tooth: What to Do First

If you chip or crack a tooth, there are some things you should do before seeing a dentist. This guide from Flossy explains what they are.

September 29, 2022
Chipped or Cracked Tooth: What to Do First

With all the different ways to damage your teeth, chipped or cracked teeth are fairly common. While you may want to see a dentist as soon as possible after damaging a tooth, there are some things you can do at home until you get an appointment.

This guide from Flossy goes over what causes teeth to chip or crack, what you should do if it happens to you, and the different options you have for fixing your teeth.

Why Do Teeth Chip or Crack? 

Some people think of their teeth as incredibly durable and able to withstand any type of damage. However, teeth are not very hard, making them susceptible to getting broken.

Enamel comprises the outer layer of the teeth, and it may very well be the hardest substance in the human body. However, on a hardness scale of 1-10 (with 10 being steel), the enamel is only a five. What’s more, the enamel is prone to breaking down, exposing the more brittle inner layers of the teeth.

Because teeth are not that hard, they can easily chip or crack due to any of the following reasons:

  • Teeth grinding: Also known as bruxism, this is a condition that many people have and aren’t even aware of. Grinding teeth slowly wears away enamel, which exposes the brittle inner part of the tooth known as dentin. Over time, this can make the bottom or top parts of teeth more prone to chipping.
  • Nutrient deficiency: If you don’t get enough calcium and fluoride, especially during development, your body won’t have the raw materials needed to create strong teeth. This can make your teeth much more prone to breaking and further damage.
  • Tooth decay: Failing to follow an effective oral hygiene routine can make your tooth enamel wear away, making your teeth more likely to chip or crack. Flossing and brushing your teeth is not simply a way to avoid embarrassment at the dentist’s office — a strong dental care routine is essential for your oral health.
  • Biting on hard things: We all know we shouldn’t, but how many of us find ourselves opening packages with our teeth when we can’t find a pair of scissors? Chomping our teeth a little too eagerly on some hard candy at the movies? Our teeth aren't supposed to bite down on hard materials, such as plastics or hard foods. Doing so can very quickly result in a crack or even minor chipping.
  • Accident: Blunt force to the mouth is a common culprit for teeth chipping, cracking, and even falling out. If you walk into a door or get hit during a contact sport (especially when not wearing a mouthguard), you can damage your tooth.

What Should You Do If You Break A Tooth?

If you crack or chip a tooth, you should make an appointment to see your dentist as soon as possible. While it isn't recommended — and often, not even possible — to mend a broken tooth at home, there are some things you can do while you wait for your appointment. 

If You Chip a Tooth

After chipping a tooth, you want to minimize any tooth pain by:

  • Rinsing with warm water
  • Applying a cold compress
  • Taking a low dose pain reliever
  • Applying dental wax

Rinse your mouth with warm water and apply cold compresses to your face to keep down any swelling. If you feel any pain, you can take a low dose of an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as ibuprofen.

If chipping your tooth results in a jagged edge, you can apply dental wax over it to keep it from cutting your tongue. Any dental wax will do the job. After you get your hands on some, roll it into a small ball and stick it to the chipped part of your tooth. 

If You Crack a Tooth

You may crack a tooth and not even know it. Try:

  • Making an appointment with your dentist
  • Minimizing your eating or drinking
  • Taking a low dose pain reliever

If you hear a strange sound come from your mouth after doing something potentially damaging, make an appointment with your dentist. They can locate a crack even if it’s not detectable to you.

You may feel sensitivity or pain due to the crack. Minimize eating or drinking anything too hot or cold. If the pain bothers you, you can take an over-the-counter painkiller for some relief. 

If You Lose a Tooth

If a tooth pops out of your mouth, saving it is still possible. You can:

  • Call your dentist and make an appointment
  • Use a gauze pad to keep the tooth in place
  • Or, keep your tooth in a small cup of milk or saltwater temporarily

Call your dentist and make an emergency appointment. You want to get to your dentist within the hour for the best chances of saving your tooth.

While you get to your appointment, use a gauze pad to place the tooth back into the socket and firmly press down on it. If you can’t place your tooth inside the socket, keep it in a small cup of milk or saltwater until you get to your dentist.

Do I Need To See a Dentist if I Chip or Crack a Tooth? 

The answer is yes. Damage to the tooth can range from barely visible cosmetic damage to a serious injury. Tooth cracks can run all the way up to the tooth's root, which contains nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissue. These cracks give bacteria a way to enter the inner part of the tooth, which can lead to an infection and require a root canal or tooth extraction.

The problem with deciding not to see a dentist is that you have no way of knowing how severe the damage is. Only an X-ray, which your dentist must do, can provide a full overview of the damage.

When it comes to chips, their appearance may not bother you. Still, they can cut into the soft tissues of your mouth, causing swelling, pain, and — potentially — an infection. Chipped teeth can also damage the healthy teeth they contact when you’re biting or chewing.

Not every crack or chip is severe enough to need treatment. Studies show that most chips and cracks affect only the enamel of the tooth, which shouldn’t lead to serious complications. However, only your dentist can decide how serious the damage is.

On the other hand, if you think that your teeth damage is serious, you should see your dentist for an emergency appointment. Losing a tooth, bleeding excessively, or experiencing severe pain are all legitimate reasons to get a dentist appointment within several hours.

Can You Repair a Tooth at Home?

While you can’t technically repair a chipped or cracked tooth at home, you can keep the damage from getting worse.

Many drugstores sell temporary repair kits, including dental wax to place over a chipped tooth or a dental paste that can fill the gaps left by tooth damage.

These kits only provide a temporary solution, so you don’t lose the function of your teeth while waiting to see your dentist. These kits do not address underlying tooth damage, which can lead to serious complications if left untreated.

How Do Dentists Fix Chipped Teeth? 

Your dentist can offer the following treatments to mend a chipped tooth:

  • Smoothing: If the chip is small, your dentist may only need to polish the surface to smooth it out — a procedure known as cosmetic contouring. If needed, your dentist can also apply a tooth-colored resin to build volume and polish it down to improve its shape.
  • Reattachment: In cases of a large chip, your dentist may be able to reattach the broken part of the tooth. If you can’t find the part of your tooth that fell off, then your dentist will apply a composite resin material instead.
  • Veneers or crowns: Some chips can be quite large, which your dentist may not be able to fix by applying resin. In this case, the entire tooth will need to be covered with either veneers or dental crowns. Veneers are the preferred option because they don’t require your tooth to be filed down as much to put on.

Depending on how much your tooth chips, it may not be too serious and not require any treatment.

The main concern with a chipped tooth is that it can slice your tongue, cheek, or another part of the mouth. Over time, a chipped tooth can damage surrounding teeth when you bite down or chew your food. For this reason, it’s always best to seek prompt treatment.

Aside from the potential complications, you may not like the appearance of a chip. 

How Do Dentists Fix Cracked Teeth? 

A crack will need to be treated with one of the following options:

  • Tooth filling: If you only have a small crack in the tooth's surface, then the only concern is fixing its appearance. Your dentist can apply a resin to cover the surface of your tooth and file it down to an ideal shape.
  • Root canal: If a crack extends to the root of the tooth and leads to an infection, it will need a more intensive treatment, such as a root canal. During this procedure, your dentist will remove the inflamed nerves from your tooth and top it off with a dental crown. Root canals are incredibly common and require virtually no downtime.
  • Surgery: Some teeth have more than one root. If one root gets infected, then it may only be a matter of time before the others get infected, which can cause tooth loss. Your dentist can perform a type of dental surgery known as a hemisection to prevent this from happening.
  • Extraction: While usually a last resort, sometimes a crack can be so deep that an extraction is necessary. When the crack extends below the gum line or if the crack splits the tooth into two parts, extraction is the recommended treatment. After performing the extraction, your dentist will recommend placing an implant into the empty socket — after you finish healing, of course. 

A crack can potentially be more serious, especially if it spreads to the tooth's root. Some mild cracks may not require any treatment and can be safely left alone.

Takeaways 

If you chip or crack your tooth, you should schedule an appointment with your dentist right away — even if the damage doesn’t seem that serious. Leaving it untreated can expose you to various dental complications, some of which can even lead to losing your tooth.

If you have a chipped or cracked tooth but do not have dental insurance, you can still get seen by a dentist. Flossy can connect you with a low-cost dentistry professional from our network so you can get treated as soon as possible.

Find a dentist near you today

Sources: 

How Hard is Tooth Enamel Compared to Other Materials? | BBC Science Focus Magazine

Enamel Craze Lines | http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25233570NCBI

Treatment Decision-Making of Cracked Teeth: Survey of American Endodontists | NCBI