Healthy Smiles by Rita Tempel, DDS – This article was originally published in The Gettysburg Times, October 18, 2017
Did you know that cracked teeth are to blame for the third-leading cause of tooth loss? Cracked teeth are considered a silent epidemic because we often observe these cracks before symptoms begin. In other words, cracked teeth are “silent” until the fracture worsens.
Why do teeth develop cracks? Although there are many reasons, here is one common scenario: A patient may have had a large filling placed in a tooth years ago. This large filling placed because of a large cavity—although necessary—will weaken the remaining tooth structure. This tooth is at risk for developing a crack, simply from stresses on the weakened tooth due to clenching, grinding, or chewing hard foods like pretzels or ice cubes. All of these actions take place on molars. So it makes sense that lower molars are the most common teeth to develop cracks, followed by upper molars and premolars.
What are the symptoms, and how do you know when the cracked tooth is transitioning from “silent” into an area that needs treatment? Once the crack worsens, patients either report a broken tooth, hot and cold sensitivity, and/or pain when biting. That’s typically when the patient calls for an emergency visit.
Once the tooth is symptomatic, treatment will most likely be a crown or full coverage restoration. For my patients, I will typically make them a temporary or provisional crown first to ensure their symptoms have subsided. If the symptoms subside, we continue with the final crown. If the symptoms haven’t subsided, then the tooth may need a root canal. However, if the crack extended onto the root itself, the only treatment is extraction.
How do we prevent losing teeth? First, routine dental visits are critical to document the condition of your teeth. Any cracks visualized by the dentist may require treatment before symptoms develop. This early treatment may increase the lifespan of your tooth! Cracks are typically treated with resins, onlays and crowns. For example, if a crack is on one side of the tooth, we may be able to treat it with a simple, tooth colored bonded resin. However, if the crack travels from one side to the other, a crown is required.
Take care of your smile—and the smiles of your loved ones—by “listening” for any changes within your mouth, especially in formerly “silent” cracked teeth. Time can be precious so please do not delay in scheduling an appointment to preserve your healthy smile.
Dr. Rita Tempel is the owner and founder of Gettysburg Smiles/Dr. Rita Tempel & Associates, a family dental practice located at 2018 York Road (Route 30 East), Gettysburg. She is a Sustaining Member of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry as well as a Preferred Provider for Invisalign. For more information, see GettysburgSmiles.com or contact Dr. Tempel at 717-339-0033.