If you crack a tooth, you need to treat the situation as an emergency and schedule an urgent appointment with Virginia H. Ellis, DDS Dental Corp. in Orinda, California.

This is because only a dental professional can tell if a crack is minor or if it needs major work right away to preserve the tooth. In this blog, Dr. Ellis — who provides emergency dentistry services — explains why cracks can be serious, what you should do if you crack a tooth, and how cracks can be treated.

The anatomy of a crack

All of your teeth are covered with a hard layer of enamel, which is what gives them their pearly white hue. Enamel is the hardest substance in the body, even harder than bone.

That’s important, because underneath the enamel and a mineralized layer of dentin is the soft inner tissue called the pulp. This is where the blood vessels, connective tissues, and nerve tissues reside. The enamel serves to protect this inner chamber.

When you crack a tooth, the protective layer is breached and the tooth structure is compromised. Some cracks can be minor enough that they just need a little resin to cover the break, or they may not even need treatment.

However, if the crack is extensive, it can open the door for bacteria to enter, which can result in decay, gum disease, or even permanent pulp damage. Since you have no way of knowing how bad the break is, it’s important to come into the office as soon as possible for an evaluation.

What you should do if you crack a tooth

If you crack a tooth, don’t panic. First, assess the situation, and then follow these steps:

  1. Gently rinse your mouth with warm water to remove blood and debris
  2. Apply an ice pack or cold compress to any swelling
  3. Take acetaminophen — not aspirin, which is a blood thinner — for pain relief. And don’t use a topical painkiller, such as Orajel™ or Anbesol®, because it can burn the gums.
  4. Put some dental wax (available at drug stores) over any jagged edges
  5. Get to the dentist as soon as possible

Once you arrive, Dr. Ellis will take an X-ray to assess the extent of the damage and act accordingly.

Treating a cracked tooth

The treatment Dr. Ellis chooses will depend on the severity of the crack. If you just have a jagged edge, or it’s mostly just a surface crack, she may either polish the surface or use dental bonding (tooth-colored resin) to fill in the gaps.

If the crack extends into the pulp chamber, repair is essential to prevent bacteria and food debris from entering and causing an infection. Dr. Ellis will send you to an endodontist to perform a root canal procedure.

During a root canal, the endodontist drills a small hole in your tooth, removes the pulp, cleans the tooth’s inner chamber, and fills the chamber with a rubbery material called gutta-percha. Once completed, if enough of the original tooth structure remains, Dr. Ellis can fill the missing section with dental bonding. If not enough of the tooth is left, she can place a dental crown on the tooth.

Sometimes, though, a root canal can’t save a cracked tooth. If the crack is too severe, you may need to have the tooth removed. In these cases, Dr. Ellis can replace the tooth with a dental implant. With a dental implant, Dr. Ellis places a titanium screw in your jawbone, which serves as an artificial “root,” and puts a crown on top. Dental implants look and function just like natural teeth.

If you’ve cracked your tooth, don’t despair. Dr. Ellis can help. To learn more, call (925) 272-2698, or book an appointment online with Virginia H. Ellis, DDS Dental Corp. today.