Cracking a tooth is, unfortunately, much more common than many patients expect. Although dental injuries are common when participating in activities like contact sports or anything else that might result in a blow to your mouth, the reality is that it takes much less to damage a tooth.

Simply chewing on hard objects or consuming foods like nuts or hard candy can cause a crack. Your teeth’s structure degrades over time, which can cause cracks in large fillings or other restorations. Exposing your tooth enamel to extreme temperature variations can increase the likelihood a crack will form. Bruxism (tooth-grinding), clenching your jaw, and even general chewing pressure are all also possible culprits.

When a crack is located beneath the gum line or too small to show up on X-rays, the patient is sometimes diagnosed with cracked tooth syndrome, which is most common with molars. Such cracks are often very difficult to identify.

Cracked Tooth Symptoms

Regardless of the cause, a cracked tooth is usually painful and often leads to further dental health issues. Fortunately, there are several symptoms of which you should be aware. These symptoms indicate that you should speak with your dentist about potential cracks in your tooth or teeth:

  • The patient experiences sharp, temporary pain (especially upon release) while biting that rapidly vanishes.
  • The patient experiences inconsistent pain that waxes and wanes.
  • Consuming hot or cold foods causes the patient discomfort or pain.
  • Consuming sweet, sour, or sticky foods causes the patient discomfort or pain.
  • The area of mystery pain is localized.

It is important to know that sometimes a cracked tooth causes little to no pain at all. These cracks can be invisible to the naked eye, and they do not always show up on dental X-rays.

Why Do Cracked Teeth Hurt?

When you bite down on something, the pressure of the bite causes the crack in your tooth to open. This is painful. Even if the crack is too small to see, its opening can expose and irritate the dental pulp found inside. If the crack irritates the dental pulp, then your tooth becomes increasingly sensitive to temperature variations. Exposed pulp can become damaged or diseased, which necessitates endodontic treatment to resolve in order to save the tooth.

Treating a Cracked Tooth

There are several options at your dentist’s disposal once a cracked tooth has been identified. Treatment often depends on the size and location of the crack, as well as the patient’s symptoms. Your dental care provider may recommend any of the following:

  • The dentist may repair the tooth with a filling.
  • The dentist may place a crown atop the vulnerable tooth to protect it from harm.
  • The dentist may recommend root canal treatment if the crack has caused your dental pulp has become damaged or diseased.
  • In extreme situations, the dentist may extract a tooth that cannot otherwise be saved.
  • The dentist may recommend no treatment, since tiny cracks are common and do not always cause problems.

An untreated cracked tooth can become a more serious problem. Regular visits to your dentist create more opportunity to diagnose and treat problems like cracked teeth in their early stages. If you experience any cracked tooth symptoms, schedule a dental appointment right away.

About the Author

Dr. Harris has been a practicing dentist since 2005. In 2012, he received his Master’s of Science in Dentistry and a certificate in Endodontics. He founded East Coast Endodontics shortly after receiving his master’s degree. He also currently holds a part-time position as a Clinical Assistant Professor for the Endodontics department at Virginia Commonwealth University. View his full bio.