What does a cracked tooth feel like?
Many teeth, when carefully viewed, may exhibit small crack lines in the enamel. A more deeply cracked tooth may become noticeable when you feel a sharp pain when chewing food or with having a hot or cold drink. It is sometimes difficult to tell which tooth hurts or whether the pain comes from an upper or lower tooth.
A crack in a tooth may appear nearly invisible as a hairline fracture or, if prominent, as a stained vertical line. Fractures are generally not visible on X-rays and are diagnosed and located by selective bite and temperature testing of teeth, trans-illumination, visual detection, and by the history of symptoms.
Why does a cracked tooth hurt?
A cracked tooth may hurt because the pressure of biting causes the crack to open. When the biting pressure is released a sharp pain results as the crack quickly closes. When a crack opens, the pulp (nerve) tissue may become irritated. This irritation and inflammation to the pulp may cause the tooth to become sensitive to temperature extremes as well. If the pulp becomes irreversibly damaged as a result of the crack endodontic (root canal) treatment may become necessary. In extreme cases a crack can develop deeper, splitting the tooth. In this case, the tooth must be removed.
What causes cracks to develop?
A tooth may crack due to:
- Chewing on hard objects or foods such as ice, nuts, or hard candy
- Tooth weakened by large restorations
- Tooth structure weakened by significant wear and fatigue
- Grinding and clenching of teeth
- Uneven chewing pressure from uneven bite, tipped tooth position, or chewing on one side
- Exposure of tooth enamel to temperature extremes such as hot coffee and ice water
- Accidental injury to the teeth
How is a cracked tooth treated?
A cracked tooth is treated by replacing the cracked enamel in a way to engulf the entire crack and prevent further splitting of the tooth. Depending on the tooth and on the size and location of the crack, treatment typically involves making a crown or a bonded porcelain veneer to replace the enamel of the tooth and hold the crack together. Endodontic treatment may become necessary if the pulp is irreversibly damaged. If the crack is extremely deep, the only option may be extraction.