Cracked Teeth

Cracked teeth may be the source of many types of problems, including pain when chewing, temperature sensitivity, or the release of biting pressure. It is also common for resulting pain to come and go, making it difficult to diagnose the cause.

Chewing can cause movement of the cracked pieces of your tooth, and the pulp within the tooth becomes irritated. At the same time, when biting pressure is released, the crack can close quickly, resulting in sharp pain. Eventually, the pulp will become damaged and tooth will consistently hurt, even when you are not chewing. It is possible that cracks can lead to infection of the pulp tissue, which can spread to the bone and gum surrounding the problematic tooth.

Types of Cracks

A depiction of craze lines on teeth

Craze lines

Craze lines are tiny cracks that affect the outer enamel of your teeth. These cracks are very common in adult teeth. Craze lines are very shallow, cause no pain, and are usually of no concern beyond appearances.

An example of a tooth with a fractured cusp

Fractured Cusp

When the pointed part of the chewing surface or your tooth becomes weakened, a fracture can result and may cause you pain. This weakened cusp may break off by itself or may need to be removed by your dentist. When this happens, the pain is usually relieved. A fractured cusp rarely damages the pulp, so root canal treatment is seldom needed. Your dentist will usually restore the tooth with a full crown.

A sample of a tooth showing a treatable cracked tooth

Cracked Tooth

This crack extends from the chewing surface of the tooth towards the root. Damage to the pulp is common and root canal treatment is frequently needed. Early diagnosis and treatment is important because a cracked tooth that is not treated will progressively worsen and eventually will result in the loss of the tooth.

A depiction of a tooth split with distinct segments

Split Tooth

A split tooth is usually the result of an untreated cracked tooth. The split tooth can be recognized by a crack with distinct segments that can be separated. A split tooth cannot be saved intact. In some cases a portion of the tooth can be saved using endodontic and restorative treatment.

An example of a vertical fracture starting at the tooth's root

Vertical Root Fracture

Vertical root fractures begin in the root of the tooth and extend toward the chewing surface. They often show minimal signs and symptoms and may go unnoticed. These Cracks are often discovered when the surrounding bone and gum become infected. Treatment may involve endodontic surgery if a portion of the tooth can be saved by removal of the fractured root.

Cracked Tooth Treatment

The fracture in a cracked tooth will never fully heal. Even after proper treatment, some cracked may continue to separate and result in the loss of the tooth. Placing a crown over the cracked tooth provides maximum protection but does not guarantee success.

The treatment for a cracked tooth will dictate pain relief and reduce the likelihood that the crack will get worse. After proper treatment, most cracked teeth will continue to be available for year of use and comfort. An endodontist will be able to make proper diagnosis and treatment recommendations.

Cracked Teeth Prevention

Cracked teeth aren’t completely preventable, but here are some steps to make your teeth less crack susceptible:

  • Avoid biting or chewing hard objects (ice, unpopped popcorn kernels or pens)
  • Wear a mouthguard when playing sports and a retainer if you clench or grind your teeth during sleep