Accidents happen. And some accidents result in a chipped tooth.
If you’ve ever chipped a tooth, you know the panic that can immediately ensue—especially when the tooth is front and center. On the other hand, many people may think that a chipped or broken tooth in the back of their mouth is not a big deal as long as it doesn’t bother them. But any tooth that chips or breaks (no matter where it is located) should be evaluated by a dentist to determine the best treatment option and avoid any further damage or complications.
How to Handle a Chipped or Fractured Tooth
When handling a chipped or fractured tooth, there are a few steps you can take before seeing a dentist:
- Call the dental office and schedule an appointment immediately
- Cover any sharp parts of the tooth with a piece of dental wax or sugarless gum
- Stay away from extremely hot or cold foods
- If the tooth is sensitive or causing pain, ask your dentist what over-the-counter pain relief option is best
- Rinse with warm water and use cold compresses to reduce swelling when dealing with a serious fracture
- Eat soft foods (and don’t chew with the broken tooth) in order to prevent further breakage
A slight chip in the enamel of a tooth may only need to be smoothed over so the rough portion doesn’t irritate the tongue and cheek. However, a more extensive chip or fracture needs to be restored, and treatment options depend on how severely the tooth has been damaged. Here are some different options for addressing a chipped tooth.
Filling or Bonding
Most moderate chips or fractures are fixed with a dental filling—but for teeth that are visible when smiling, dentists usually bond a tooth-colored filling material (called composite resin) to the tooth. For more extensive repairs, the bonding material can actually be shaped so that it looks like the employee’s natural tooth. Materials today have so many color matches, the repair is typically not even noticeable.
Veneers are thin composite or porcelain shells that completely cover the front of a tooth to make it look as if it had never chipped or fractured. During the first of two appointments, the dentist removes a thin layer of enamel from the front of the tooth and takes impressions that are then sent to a lab, which fabricates the veneers. The second appointment involves etching the front surface of the tooth with a liquid solution and attaching the veneer using cement that is hardened with a special light.
Root Canal Procedure
If a tooth has a severe break that exposes nerves and blood vessels, bacteria can easily enter and cause infection. In this case, root canal therapy—performed by a general dentist or endodontist—will be necessary to save the tooth. And most likely, the dentist will suggest a full-coverage crown be added afterward to fortify the broken tooth.
When a large portion of a tooth has broken, a full-coverage cap or crown may be the only option to prevent it from breaking beyond the point of repair. Like veneers, crowns require two appointments; one to prepare the tooth and take the impressions and a second appointment to cement the finished crown onto the tooth. Most crowns are made from either porcelain, ceramic or resin fused to metal, which matches the color of the other teeth in the mouth.
Preventing Broken Teeth
For those who are weekend-sports enthusiasts, the Academy of General Dentistry recommends wearing a mouthguard whenever playing contact sports. Chipped teeth can also be prevented by not biting down on hard candy or ice. In general, teeth shouldn’t be used for tasks that don’t involve chewing food, like opening bottles, holding onto objects or tearing open snack bags.
Before going ahead with any dental procedure that involves more than a modest dental filling, request that your dentist submit a predetermination to your insurance company. This way, there won’t be any surprises on either end. After all, a chipped tooth is surprising enough.
It’s also wise to schedule necessary repairs as soon as possible—a simple chip can turn into a bigger break with just one unforeseen “chomp.”