Broke a tooth in half? It’s time to see a dentist. How quickly that needs to happen, and what the dentist will do about it, depend on the type and severity of the break.
Here are the things to know and steps to take, for everything from a tiny dental fracture to a clean, complete break.
How Half of My Tooth Broke Off
Did you know that tooth enamel is the hardest part of the human body? Teeth are actually harder than human bones. But that does not mean that teeth are indestructible. There are a lot of things that can damage a tooth or even break a tooth in half:
- Biting down on something hard like a popcorn kernel, hard candy, or ice cubes can crack or chip teeth.
- A fall, a car crash, or any forceful blow to the mouth can knock teeth out or break one or more of them.
- Using teeth as a tool to pry or tear something is not recommended because it may damage or break teeth.
- Old, loose fillings or large fillings that cover most of a tooth can start to pull away from teeth. This weakens teeth, making them more likely to crack or break.
- Teeth grinding (called bruxism), puts a lot of pressure on teeth, making them vulnerable to fractures and breakage.
- Teeth can weaken and break due to age, poor dental hygiene, or even heredity.
Compared to breaking a bone, breaking a tooth might not seem very serious. But bones have the ability to regenerate and heal when they break. Cracked, chipped, or broken teeth on the other hand do not. If they are not fixed, they will stay that way. It is always best to see a dentist for even minor tooth damage.
What Happens If Broken Teeth Go Untreated
It is a bad idea to ignore damaged teeth since they will not heal on their own. There is often pain and swelling when a tooth breaks off. And if the break goes deep enough, the tooth may bleed and be sensitive to heat and cold. It might hurt to bite down in that area, making eating difficult.
A jagged edge from a dental fracture or break is likely to be uncomfortable rubbing up against the sides of the mouth or the tongue. And if the break is on a front tooth, there is the obvious issue of how it looks.
Another problem with leaving a broke tooth in half alone is that it interferes with the way the teeth come together when the patient talks and chews. This can cause jaw pain as well as make the jaw and teeth shift to accommodate the imperfect bite.
Worse than these problems of discomfort or cosmetics is the possibility of more serious dental issues. Any breach of the tooth enamel leaves the tooth’s inner layers exposed to bacteria. Letting bacteria in can cause cavities. Worse, if a crack or break goes all the way down to the root, an infection can attack the nerves and blood vessels at the core of the tooth. This can result in a dental abscess or pulpitis. A root canal procedure or even extraction might be necessary.
Can a Dentist Fix a Chipped Tooth? What if a Molar Broke in Half?
Call the dentist immediately if a broken tooth is painful or bleeding. But, even with a bad break, you might not feel pain or see any blood. These things usually mean that the break is not an emergency—but you should make a dental appointment anyway. A very small chip or crack without pain can usually wait until the next scheduled checkup.
The dentist often has a simple solution to fix minor problems. Serious breaks, (for example if a molar broke in half), might need more complex treatment, and it is important not only to get it done but to get it done quickly.
The following methods are the most common fixes for cracks, chips, and broken teeth:
- A dentist might be able to smooth out a small chip using a dental file.
- Dental filling material can close cracks or fill chips that have not damaged too much of the enamel.
- Veneers are good for covering the front side of teeth to conceal chips, cracks, or breaks on the front-facing surface of visible teeth.
- Dental bonding can work like a veneer. It might also be used to cement a broken chunk of the tooth back into place.
- When a tooth is badly damaged, it might need a dental crown. A crown is made to look and feel like a real tooth, placed on top, and sealed to keep out future decay. This might also be the best option if a molar broke in half.
- When a break is deep enough to damage the root or pulp chamber, the dentist might recommend a root canal procedure. They will remove the soft tissue at the center of the tooth, then finish it off with a crown.
- If a tooth breaks down below the gum line, or if the root fractures and splits in two, the only option might be extraction. Once the tooth is pulled, the patient can choose a restoration such as dentures or a dental implant.
The dentist’s decision about what to do about a broken tooth depends on how far down on the tooth the break is, and whether or not it is affecting the root. Their priorities will be first to alleviate the pain and then protect the tooth’s integrity. This means sealing it off from bacteria and making sure it is structurally strong. Finally, they will restore the tooth’s look.
Steps to Take Until the Dental Appointment
It may not be possible to get in to see a dentist immediately after a patient broke a tooth in half. Patients can do the following until their appointment:
- If possible, keep the broken portion of the tooth in case the dentist can bond it back into place.
- Bite down on a piece of clean gauze to stop any bleeding.
- Manage pain with over-the-counter ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
- Eat only soft foods and avoid excessively hot or cold food and drinks.
- If an entire tooth is knocked out, hold it only by the crown and not the roots. If able to go directly to the dentist, gently rinse it with water or saline solution and place it back into the gum. If it is not possible to go to the dentist immediately, try storing the tooth in a small container of saline solution, water with a bit of salt, or a store-bought product like Save-a-Tooth. In many cases, this can preserve a tooth for up to 24 hours.
If there is severe bleeding that will not stop, or if the broken tooth happened in an incident with other injuries, it is best to go to an emergency room.
Finding a Dentist for a Broken Tooth
While a tooth broken in half is not always an emergency, it should be taken seriously. It is not always obvious how bad the break is without a dentist’s expertise. Better to make an appointment and get a quick fix than to suffer later with a bad cavity or a damaged root.
For emergency dental care or to find a regular dentist, use our online search tool. Our extensive database has dental professionals in your area.