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Broken Tooth

  • Chris Woolston, M.S.
  • Posted March 11, 2013

What's the treatment for a broken tooth?

Tooth enamel is made of the hardest substances in the human body, but teeth still have their breaking point. Any sharp blow to the mouth -- whether it's from a door, the sidewalk, or a baseball -- can damage a tooth. Breaks range all the way from minor chips to major fractures. Some are just cosmetic problems, but others are true emergencies. Here's what you need to know about caring for broken teeth.

What are the different kinds of breaks?

Each tooth has three layers: enamel, the hard outer coating; dentin, the main part of the tooth; and pulp, the fleshy nerve center. Many people who "chip" their teeth simply knock out a chunk of enamel. They may have a gap in their smile, but they aren't likely to feel much pain. If enough enamel breaks off, though, the dentin can be exposed. The tooth still shouldn't hurt too much, but it may be very sensitive to cold. The worst breaks go all the way to the pulp. Not surprisingly, this causes extreme pain as well as bleeding from the tooth.

What should I do if I break a tooth?

If you have a minor chip in your tooth, there's no need to panic. You're not in any danger of losing your tooth. Rinse your mouth with warm water, and if you have any discomfort, take an over-the-counter painkiller such as ibuprofen (Advil). Then call your dentist for an appointment.

If you have a more serious fracture, consider it a dental emergency. Rinse your mouth with warm water and call your dentist to get an appointment right away. Before hopping in the car, take a painkiller (as long as it is not aspirin) and, if possible, put cold compresses or an ice pack on your mouth to reduce the swelling. Aspirin isn't the best choice in a dental emergency because it can increase the risk of heavy bleeding.

What's the treatment for a broken tooth?

Minor chips usually don't require treatment. If you don't like the way it looks, your dentist can either smooth out the chip with a sandpaper disc or fill it in with a composite material. Either way, you'll have to take it easy on your tooth for a few days. While you're in the office, your dentist should take an x-ray of the damaged tooth.

More serious breaks call for immediate treatment. If the dentin is exposed, your dentist can cover it with a hard, enamel-like coating of calcium hydroxide. As long as the pulp is still healthy, the tooth can usually be completely fixed with a permanent crown. If the pulp is damaged, however, treatment becomes more complicated. A general dentist or endodontist may perform root canal treatment to remove all or part of the damaged pulp before putting on a crown.

If the break in your tooth is anything more than a tiny chip, your dentist will want to see you again soon to make sure your tooth is healing properly. In the meantime, treat it -- and all your other teeth -- with care. Brush and floss every day and wear a mouthguard when you play sports. If you don't have a mouthguard, your dentist can fit you with one. Teeth may be hard, but they still deserve a break -- the good kind, that is.

References

Academy of General Dentistry. Dental emergencies. Undated.

American Dental Association. Dental Emergencies. 2010.

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