Since people are living longer and more demanding lives today our teeth sometimes can suffer the consequences, being subjected to additional years of crack-inducing habits. Some of these habits include, clenching, grinding and chewing hard objects, which ultimately make our teeth more vulnerable to cracking.
There are numerous symptoms for cracked teeth, including increased sensitivity and pain while chewing or being exposed to extreme temperature changes. Occasionally, the pain will not be consistent, which can make it difficult for our endodontists to determine which tooth is causing the discomfort.
We want to help you understand why cracked teeth may cause pain and discomfort. It is important to first understand the anatomy of the tooth. Beneath the white enamel of the tooth (the hard layer called dentin), there is inner soft tissue called pulp. The loose pulp is connective tissue that is comprised of cells, blood vessels and nerves. When a tooth is cracked, chewing can cause the movement of the hard pieces of the tooth to irritate the pulp, which can cause severe sharp pain at times, and even numerous times, while chewing. If treatment is not sought quickly, the irritation to the pulp could eventually damage the pulp enough where it can no longer heal itself. When this occurs, pain may also occur when subject to extreme temperatures. It is also possible for larger cracks that are left untreated to cause an infection inside the pulp tissue, which can spread to surrounding bone and gum tissue.
Early diagnosis is extremely important with cracked teeth. The sooner a crack is detected and treated, the better the chance of saving your tooth. Endodontists are dentists with two to three additional years of education that includes diagnosing and treating unusual dental pain. Your endodontist’s specialized training and expertise can be valuable when a cracked tooth is suspected. Cracked tooth pain often comes from damage to the pulp tissue and having root canal therapy can relieve this pain.
Cracked Tooth Syndrome
Although the tooth is not completely separated, the crack will extend from the chewing surface of the tooth vertically down towards the root of the tooth. Damage to the pulp tissue is very common when the position of the crack is vertical, and root canal therapy will be necessary to treat the damaged pulp. Following treatment, your general dentist will place a crown over the tooth to hold the pieces together and protect it from further damage. In some cases, where the crack extends below the gingival tissue, an extraction may be necessary.
It is sometimes very difficult to determine the extent of the crack, even when using state-of-the-art magnification equipment and specialized lighting. If a cracked tooth is left untreated it will only worsen and will eventually require the tooth to be extracted. We highly recommend early diagnosis and treatment to make every effort to save a cracked tooth.
Vertical Root Fracture
A vertical root fracture begins in the root of the tooth and extends upward towards the chewing surface. This type of crack often has few symptoms and therefore goes undetected. Sometimes they are not noticed until the surrounding bone and gum tissue become infected. Although extraction is normally recommended for these types of cracks, your endodontist may be able to offer endodontic surgery as an alternative in effort to save the tooth.
A fractured tooth is unlike a broken bone; it cannot heal. Although treatment may sometimes help prevent further cracking, it is possible that it may progress and completely separate, ultimately requiring an extraction of the tooth. A crown can offer maximum protection for a cracked tooth, but does not guarantee that the crack tooth will not continue to deteriorate in the future.
In most instances, treated cracked teeth can continue to function properly and provide years of comfortable use.