When you go to the dentist’s office for a checkup, you want them to find any issues that could turn into big problems. However, some issues, such as cracked teeth, are difficult to diagnose. Even a skilled dentist might have a hard time identifying this problem if the cracks are too small to show up on X-rays.
Even tiny cracks in your teeth weaken their structure and increase their risk of breaking. Early detection will help your dentist treat any cracked teeth more effectively, and with less invasive procedures, than if you let the crack progress.
Cracking a tooth or worsening a fractured tooth can have serious consequences, so you should know risk factors for cracked teeth-and how to know if you already have one.
Cracked Tooth Risk Factors
The best way to avoid painful tooth cracks and breaks is to avoid their causes. These causes can be easy to overlook, so use the following list to use if you might be at risk.
Grinding and Clenching
Grinding or clenching puts stress on your teeth and can weaken them over time. If you wake up with a sore jaw or cheeks, or if your teeth feel tender in the morning, talk to your dentist about treatments for grinding.
If you have a habit of clenching your jaw when you get stressed or angry, you can break it. Pay attention to this behavior and thoughtfully redirect your energy to a stress ball or another harmless activity.
Eating Hard Foods
Hard candy, nuts, and ice might feel good to crunch, but they won’t seem so nice if your tooth crunches with them. Limit the amount of hard foods you eat, and don’t make chewing ice a habit.
If you avoid hard candy, you also have the added benefit of avoiding the sugar and possible cavities that come with it.
If you switch from hot to cold food or drinks quickly, it probably won’t hurt your teeth if they’re healthy. However, this can cause damage if you have a tooth weakened by a filling, crown, or hairline crack. It’s best to avoid alternating hot and cold just in case. For example, don’t drink ice water with hot soup or eat ice cream with hot coffee.
Even without temperature extremes, weakened teeth will crack and break more easily than those that are healthy. If you have teeth with large fillings or crowns, pay special attention to them and chew carefully.
If you have a missing tooth, you should also watch out for the teeth surrounding the gap. They have to handle more pressure than your other teeth, which makes them vulnerable to breakage.
How to Catch a Cracked Tooth
Sometimes cracked teeth prove difficult to diagnose because they don’t show up on X-rays. You can help your dentist locate the problem by watching out for the following symptoms.
Unlike a cavity or abscess, a cracked tooth won’t hurt all the time, especially if the crack is small enough to hide on X-rays. However, most cracked teeth do come with some discomfort.
Cracked teeth will often cause pain or discomfort when you eat hot or cold foods. Always tell your dentist if your teeth feel sensitive to hot or cold, especially if you notice pain in just one area.
How to Locate a Cracked Tooth
If you have symptoms of a cracked tooth, you should tell your dentist as soon as possible. He or she will use small tools or a microscope to examine your mouth and find out which tooth has a problem.
If you think you know which tooth has a crack, you can take a cotton swab, place it on the specific tooth, and gently bite down. If you feel pain either when you bite down or release your jaw, tell your dentist where to look to find the problem.
Treatments That Help Cracked Teeth
If you catch a cracked tooth before it breaks, your dentist will have an easier time treating it. He or she will first determine how big the crack is, how deep it runs, and where it is. Then your dentist can determine which treatment will work best
Common treatments for cracked teeth include:
- Root canals
- Endodontic surgery
These procedures will save your tooth before the crack widens and spreads down through the root. This way, you can avoid an extraction.
If the crack has progressed too far and your dentist decides you do need an extraction, you don’t have to live with missing teeth. Your dentist can replace the extracted tooth with an implant or bridge.
You can avoid painful cracked teeth by knowing your risk factors and changing any bad habits. If you suspect you have a cracked tooth, make an appointment with your dentist for an assessment and treatment.