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Cracked Tooth Syndrome

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Updated April 25, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Cracked Tooth Syndrome
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Cracked tooth syndrome is a term that dentists use to describe discomfort, sensitivity, or pain that is a direct result of a fracture or crack in your tooth. The fracture or crack is often difficult to detect and may be completely invisible to the naked eye. It may not even appear on an x-ray. Your dentist will most likely diagnose the problem based upon the symptoms you are having along with positive responses from biting tests.

How Do Teeth Crack?

As you get older, your teeth may lose some of their original strength. When your teeth are weakened, it makes them more vulnerable to cracks and fractures. Clenching and grinding, for instance, can weaken teeth. Large fillings and root canal treatments can also cause your teeth to lose strength and make them brittle.

Every day, your teeth endure a tremendous amount of pressure from biting and chewing, so if you bite down on a hard object like a piece of ice, hard candy or a popcorn kernel, the force can sometimes cause a tooth to crack, especially if it is already weakened. Your teeth could also crack or fracture because of an accident or injury.

Symptoms of Cracked Tooth Syndrome

You may have cracked tooth syndrome if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • You find yourself chewing on only one side of your mouth because it is uncomfortable to chew on the other side.
  • Your tooth is sensitive to hot or cold temperatures, or to sweet or sour foods.
  • You feel a sharp pain in your tooth when you bite down or chew.
  • The pain you feel is recurring, rather than constant.

Diagnosis and Treatment

In order to diagnose cracked tooth syndrome, your dentist will first perform a thorough examination of your mouth and teeth, focusing on the area that's painful. They will usually take an x-ray of the painful area, which may or may not reveal the fracture, and they will analyze your bite to isolate the problem. Once the fractured part of your tooth is identified, your dentist will recommend the treatment depending on the location and direction of the fracture, as well as the extent of the damage.

  • Your teeth have three layers, and if the crack only affects the outer enamel layer, then your dentist can remove the offending crack and stabilize it with a crown or onlay. This will also protect it from breaking further and will seal out bacteria and infection.

  • If the crack involves the underlying dentin layer, then the treatment could be more involved. Your dentist may recommend building up the tooth prior to placing a crown.

  • If the crack affects the pulp layer (the center-most part of the tooth), then you will need more complicated treatment, such as a root canal, before a crown can be placed.

  • In rare cases, a crack will extend throughout the entire tooth and under the bone. In these cases, there is no way to restore your tooth and your dentist will most likely recommend having it extracted.

Fortunately, most cracked teeth can be saved. The key is to find the crack early in its development and treat it appropriately. If you think you have a cracked tooth, see your dentist as soon as possible to have it evaluated.

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