If you’ve ever cracked or broken a tooth, you might have noticed it right away. A tooth can crack if you bite down on something with a lot of force — such as a piece of hard candy, a bottle you’re trying to open or a clothing tag you’re trying to remove. Teeth can also chip or crack due to an injury, such as being knocked in the mouth while playing sports.
In some cases, however, a tooth can crack without being too obvious. The crack might be so small that it’s not visible on X-rays or it might be below the gumline, so that you and your dentist don’t spot it immediately. When a crack is very tiny or under the gumline, the condition is known as cracked tooth syndrome. Cracked tooth syndrome can be tricky to diagnose since the cracks are so small. Here’s what you need to know about the issue and what to look for.
What Causes Cracked Tooth Syndrome?
Usually, the teeth in the back of the mouth, the molars, are the most likely to develop the tiny cracks associated with cracked tooth syndrome. If a front tooth cracks, it will usually be a larger crack or break. The back teeth also take on most of the force when you chew, making them more susceptible to damage over time.
The syndrome often develops as a result of ongoing, repeated pressure on the teeth. Chewing hard food and objects or constantly grinding your teeth are two common causes of cracked teeth.
Teeth that are weak are also more likely to crack. If you have a history of root canal procedures on a tooth or a tooth that has fillings or a history of decay, the damage to the tooth can make it more susceptible to tiny hairline cracks.
What are the Symptoms of Cracked Tooth Syndrome?
While you might not have visible symptoms of a cracked tooth, you’ll likely notice that something has changed. You might notice that the affected tooth is sensitive, especially when you try to chew something or bite down. The sensitivity associated with a cracked tooth is different from the discomfort you might experience because of a cavity. Some people also notice that their tooth is sensitive to temperatures. They might feel a tingle when they eat something hot or drink something cold.
Since the symptoms can come and go, it can be tricky to diagnose a cracked tooth. You might feel sensitivity or mild discomfort for months before connecting the dots.
It is possible for the cracks in the tooth to get bigger over time. In that case, you’re likely to have more obvious, persistent symptoms. For example, a crack can get large enough that a piece of the tooth breaks off.
Cracks that develop under the gum line also have a higher risk of infection, which can lead to the formation of a small bump on the gums. The bump might be painful to the touch and full of fluid.
What Can You Do About It?
Although chipping or otherwise obviously breaking a tooth isn’t something you want, in some cases it can be preferable to having a hidden crack in your tooth. That’s because it is difficult for a dentist to diagnose a crack in the tooth when they can’t see it.
While cracked teeth can be tricky to detect, there are ways to treat them once the crack is noticed. If the crack is deep enough, you might need a root canal to clean the inside of the tooth and remove any infection. If the crack has traveled to the top of the tooth, your dentist might place a cap or crown on it to correct the fissure.
There are cases when the damage caused by a crack is severe enough to require removal of the entire tooth. If that is the case, your dentist can recommend tooth replacement options, such as dental implants, to help restore your smile.
Dr. John Paul Gallardo is a periodontal specialist in the Miami area who also provides dental cleanings, exams, and dental implants. To learn more about his practice in Miami, FL, call 305-547-8687 to schedule a consultation today.