Most small injuries will heal on their own. Your body will absorb a small bruise and normally vanish without a trace. A small cut will likewise heal, leaving only a thin white line, if any mark remains.
However, when it comes to your teeth, your body doesn’t really have a good mechanism for healing. When you get a small injury to your tooth, like a crack, it actually gets worse and worse with time and eventually can lead to the complete loss of your tooth if not treated.
Small Cracks Under Stress
If you develop small cracks in your teeth, they might not seem like a major problem, but they can be.
Your teeth are designed to flex under the pressure of your bite. When this happens, the small crack in your tooth widens. As the pressure releases, the crack closes again, but now it’s a little larger.
Another problem is that the small cracks may seem tiny to you, but to microscopic bacteria, the crack is a huge break in the defenses of your teeth. Even when closed, the crack can shelter bacteria, protecting them from your saliva, which is toxic to them, and your toothbrush and floss that is trying to remove them. Inside the crack, the bacteria will eat sugars, excrete acid, and produce new bacteria. The acid eats away at your teeth, making room for more bacteria, which will penetrate deeper and deeper into your tooth until they reach the tooth pulp or nerve. When this occurs, the result is an infected tooth (abscessed tooth), which requires a root canal to treat. In other cases, we may have to remove the tooth and replace it with a dental implant.
Common Causes of Cracked Teeth
If you’re wondering how your teeth became cracked in the first place, you can place the blame on one of the following reasons.
- Pressure from teeth grinding and clenching
- Amalgam fillings that expand and contract with heat changes
- Chewing or biting hard items or food like ice, hard candy, and nuts
- Physical injuries to the mouth
- Age – Most cracks occur in people 50 or older
Types of Cracked Teeth
Not only can a number of factors cause cracked teeth, but there are also several different types of cracks that can occur.
- Fractured Cusp – These are the type of cracks that usually occur around a dental filling. They usually don’t affect the pulp of the tooth and won’t cause much pain or discomfort.
- Craze Lines – These are small cracks in the enamel and usually don’t cause any pain or require any treatment. Craze lines on the front of your teeth are quite common and are caused by nail-biting, teeth grinding, a misaligned bite, or chewing on non-food items.
- Cracks Extending Past the Gum Lines – If a tooth has a vertical crack that reaches past the gum line, the tooth might need an extraction. If you catch it before it gets past the gum line, it’s usually savable.
- Split Tooth – A split tooth is a tooth with a crack that travels from the top of the tooth to below the gum line. Dr. Strober might be able to save it, but it’s unlikely.
- Vertical Tooth Fracture – This type of cracked tooth has a crack that begins at the gum line and then travels up. It may or may not cause symptoms or become extracted. These types of fractures usually require extraction.
As you can see with the information listed above, treating cracks in their earliest stages is essential for preventing the need for extraction. To find out what type of cracked tooth you have, Dr. Strober will take x-rays of your teeth to assess the damage.
Treating Cracked Teeth
If the damage from your cracked tooth is too severe, the only treatment is an extraction. If the damage isn’t too severe, your treatment might involve a root canal and/or dental bonding or a dental crown. In the case of craze lines, there is no treatment. But if you hate the appearance, you can always cover it with porcelain veneers, dental bonding, or BioClear. Dr. Strober will determine your best treatment after an examination.
When Dental Fillings are the Problem
The purpose of dental fillings is to protect your teeth from decay. When bacteria damage your teeth, we remove the damage and replace the missing tooth structure with a dental filling. In the past, this was usually metal amalgam (silver) fillings.
Metal amalgam fillings can actually promote decay, though. The metal doesn’t bond to your tooth. It actually just rests inside the tooth, taking up as much space as it can. Since it doesn’t bond, it’s possible that there’s a margin around the filling that is just enough to trap food and shelter oral bacteria–remember, to microscopic bacteria, even tiny spaces are huge. Once they find a little shelter, they can begin to cause decay around the edges of your fillings.
Metal amalgam fillings can make this even worse through a process known as percolation. When the metal fillings come into contact with a cold beverage, the metal shrinks. As a result, it creates a space around the filling, which allows for more penetration by oral bacteria and acidic substances. This creates spaces around the filling for bacteria to grow.
On the other hand, when the metal filling comes into contact with a hot beverage, it expands. This squeezes the bacteria and liquid out, but it also causes the filling to push up against the enamel of your tooth. This creates tiny stress cracks, which in turn, can shelter oral bacteria and contribute to decay.
It’s even worse when damage occurs around the filling. The black filling conceals the existence of decay around and under it.
Decay around a filling may eventually reach the tooth pulp as well, leading to an abscessed tooth.
Avoiding Cracked Teeth By Replacing Amalgam Fillings in Rancho Mirage
To detect and treat minor tooth problems before they become serious, make your regular checkup and hygiene visits. Consider replacing amalgam fillings, which can conceal decay and damage. Of course, tell your dentist if you suspect a problem.
If you are looking for a Rancho Mirage dentist to help protect and repair your teeth, please call (760) 832-7915 today for an appointment at Country Club Dentistry.