Your teeth are strong. Enamel, the outer covering of your teeth, is one of the strongest substances in your body. But with all the stresses on your teeth, chips and fractures are common even with excellent dental hygiene and twice-yearly check-ups. You might bite down on a hard piece of candy; you might suffer a blow to the mouth playing sports or in an accident. A tooth may become brittle because of an untreated cavity or because an old filling is failing to protect your tooth. In some cases, there is no apparent cause. You may experience pain that is constant or pain that comes and goes. Your tooth may be sensitive to heat or cold. Some people have no symptoms at all.
Noticing a chip or fracture on a tooth can be alarming. Even if there is no pain, what will happen next — and what if you are out of town when it happens? This article guides you through the process of dealing with a chipped or broken tooth.
What to do when you notice a chipped tooth
The chip may be obvious when you look in the mirror, or you may feel a jagged edge with your tongue. Until you see your dentist, you can try these home remedies to mediate the pain and prevent further damage:
- Place a teabag, sugar-free gum, or dental wax over the chipped area;
- Avoid chewing on the chipped tooth;
- Wear a mouthguard when playing sports or at night if you grind your teeth;
- Use dental floss to remove food caught between your teeth.
For pain, take an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drug such as ibuprofen, use an ice pack on the cheek covering the tooth, and apply clove oil to painful gums.
What to do if you break a tooth
A broken tooth can be a dental emergency, particularly if the break exposes or comes close to a nerve. Call your dentist right away for the earliest possible appointment. Meanwhile, begin treatment by rinsing your mouth out with warm water and stop any bleeding by applying pressure with gauze or a wet teabag. Use an ice pack on your cheek to reduce swelling if present and use an over the counter pain reliever if you are experiencing discomfort. Do not brush the tooth until you have consulted with a dentist. To help prevent further damage, you can cover major cracks with temporary dental cement, available at many drug stores. Some people pack dental cement along with other health supplies on international trips where the product may be difficult or impossible to find. Just remember that dental cement is a temporary remedy, not a solution.
When to see a dentist
Minor chips can often wait until your next regularly scheduled appointment. But if you are worried or are going out of town, your dentist will be happy to see you and provide reassurance or prompt treatment. Major chips and broken teeth are more urgent. If the tooth becomes infected, you should seek immediate treatment. Signs of infection include the following:
- increased pain;
- gum swelling;
- halitosis (bad breath);
- sensitivity to hot and/or cold food and drinks;
- swollen neck glands that may also be sore
How the dentist will help you
Treatment of a chipped or broken tooth depends on its location and severity. Smoothing and polishing the tooth usually takes care of minor chips. For more extensive damage, many treatments are available. The first concern is infection. Your dentist will assess you for any signs of infection and prescribe appropriate treatment. Then, the damage will be repaired. If you still have the fragment that broke off, your dentist may simply cement the fragment back in place. If a fragment is not available, plastic or porcelain can be cemented to your tooth’s surface and then shaped to match your other teeth. A veneer may be recommended. This requires shaving off less than a millimeter of enamel, taking an impression of your tooth, and sending it to a lab to create the veneer which will be bonded to your tooth. These treatments last decades.
Dental onlays are often applied to the surface of molars unless extensive damage requires a full crown. These, too, can last for decades but depend on the pressure and frequency applied to the tooth. Your dentist will advise you on foods you may wish to avoid and chewing techniques that will help protect your onlay or crown. If the tooth cannot be saved, you have options such as a tooth implant or a dental bridge to replace the tooth. Your dentist will work with you to help you select the treatment that best suits your needs.
Schedule a dental appointment
Routine visits to your dentist, which are recommended twice a year, will reveal dental abnormalities that may put you at risk for a broken tooth These problems can be addressed before the tooth fails saving you inconvenience and, in some situations, pain. If a tooth breaks or chips, be sure to see a dentist immediately. Timely treatment can save the tooth from getting worse. Dr. David Evans and his friendly staff located in Boulder, CO are available to assist you if you have a dental emergency, reconstructive needs, or any concerns. Call today or schedule an appointment online.