Losing a tooth can be a traumatic experience for many people, but when a tooth breaks there are additional complications. No one wants to have a gap in their smile, but a having a tooth stump or a jagged root is even worse than that.
Made of multiple types of tissue including dentin and enamel, the hardest and most highly mineralized substance in the body, teeth are naturally strong, but they are not impervious to wear and tear. Teeth break for any number of reasons such as injury, decay, compromised integrity, or pressure over time from behaviors like grinding or clenching. Previous dental work can also lead over time to future problems because a filled tooth is no longer whole.
Dental amalgams, more commonly known as silver fillings, can over time create these kinds of problems because the metal expands and contracts upon contact with heat and cold, and this kind of pressure often leads to cracks and fissures within teeth. Healthy teeth age as well, the dentin and enamel also expanding and contracting over the years with the same exposure to heat and cold, causing teeth to develop vertical cracks called craze lines. Eventually, with enough built-up stress, many teeth break suddenly and unexpectedly, leaving their owners with a rather large problem to solve and in a hurry.
The work needed to repair a broken tooth depends, of course, on the damage. A tooth has three layers: enamel, dentin, and pulp, the nerve center at the tooth’s core. Small enamel chips may require no fixing at all. Exposed dentin is another matter, although emergency dental work is sometimes unnecessary as any pain or increased sensitivity this causes can often be allayed with over-the-counter medication until a dental appointment can be made. If the tooth is damaged down to the pulp, however, problems will be more severe. Rinse your mouth out with warm water, cover the broken tooth with gauze, and call your dentist immediately. Use ice packs and painkillers to address any swelling or discomfort, but don’t take aspirin as it acts as an anticoagulant.
In order to assess the damage to the broken tooth, dental x-rays will be done, and, with a better idea of what, if any, the internal damage is, the dentist will make recommendations. These may range from a simple filing down of a chip to installing a crown on what remains.
A good dentist will keep an eye on the condition of a patient’s older fillings or other dental work knowing that heading off problems with simpler solutions is frequently preferable to more involved work like root canals and dental implants. This is why it is important to have regular dental check ups – both to monitor and maintain proper dental health. If you have concerns about the condition of your teeth or previous dental work, do not hesitate to bring this up with your dentist at your next appointment.