A crack in a tooth may expose the inside of the tooth (the 'dentine') that has very small fluid filled tubes that lead to the 'nerve' (the pulp tissue; the living part of the tooth), to the outside. Flexing of the tooth opens the crack and causes movement of the fluid within the tubes. When you let the biting pressure off, the crack closes and the fluid pressure simulates the nerve and causes pain; it can happen as you bite onto it too.
Most fractures cannot be avoided because they happen when you least expect them.
If you think you grind your teeth at night, ask Dr. Telford about it. Relaxation exercises may be beneficial.
It is very important to preserve the strength of your teeth so they are not as susceptible to fracture. Try to prevent dental decay and have it treated early. Heavily decayed and therefore heavily filled teeth are weaker than teeth that have never been filled.
How are cracked teeth treated?
A cracked tooth is treated depending on the direction and severity of the crack. If a crack is small enough, simply easing it from articulation with other teeth can suffice. It may be necessary to remove the affected piece and replace it with a filling. Sometimes the cracked part of the tooth fractures off during the removal of the filling and this can be replaced with a new filling.
For bigger cracks, an orthodontic band may be placed around the tooth to keep it together as a temporary measure. If the pain settles, the band is replaced with a filling that covers the fractured portion of tooth (or the whole biting surface). Other options include the placement of gold filling or even a crown.
If the crack goes too far vertically, there is a possibility the tooth may need to be removed and replaced with an artificial one. (See bridgework, denture, and implant)
The living part of the tooth (the nerve) may sometimes be affected so badly that it dies. Root canal treatment will be required if the tooth is to be saved.
Will my cracked tooth heal?
Unlike fractures elsewhere in the body, this crack will never heal. There is a small chance that the crack will get worse even with a crown placed. This may lead to the need for root canal treatment, or even removal of the tooth. However, many cracks can be fixed without root canal or tooth removal.
What causes cracked teeth?
The cause of front teeth breaking is usually due to a knock, an accident or during biting.
Back teeth can also be fractured from a knock. They are much more likely than front teeth, to crack from forces applied by the jaws slamming together rapidly. This is why sportspeople wear mouthguards to cushion the blow.
Other forces occur during sleep because people gnash their teeth with a much greater force than they would ever do while awake. The first sign of problems may be what we call "cracked tooth syndrome" - a sore or sensitive tooth somewhere in the mouth that is often hard for even the dentist to find. In all individuals the grinding, called Thegosis (bruxism), usually causes tooth wear rather than fracture.