Caring For Chipped or Broken Teeth

Chipped teeth are a common dental problem, and they are unique in that they happen in perfectly healthy mouths.  Unlike cavities and gum disease, which are both have bacterial infections, chipped teeth happen in the absence of any disease.  Chipped teeth also happen at every age, from crawling infants to senior citizens.

What Causes Chipped Teeth?

Chipped teeth have one main cause: trauma.  Trauma can happen in two different ways.  One way teeth sustain trauma, leading to chipping, is through a blunt force or injury.  If you are hit in the face with a baseball or have a car accident in which your face strikes the steering wheel, the force placed on the tooth may be enough to break or chip enamel.  This is very understandable.  No one is surprised when they have an injury to the face resulting in a chipped tooth or teeth.

The surprising way that teeth can chip is due to microtrauma.  This occurs when the teeth experience smaller forces over an extended period of time.  The most frequent cause of microtrauma to teeth is heavy clenching and/or grinding during sleep, also known as bruxism.  The forces applied to the teeth by bruxism weaken and wear down various areas of the teeth, giving them a higher risk for chipping.  This is typically the underlying cause of cases when someone chips a tooth while eating “normal food”.

When Does a Chipped Tooth Need Treatment?

There are many conditions surrounding a chipped tooth’s need for treatment.  We could even make the argument that eventually, all chipped teeth need repairing.  We will categorize the need for repairs into the timing of the repair.

Needs Immediate Attention

Needs Attention Soon

Do not need Attention

  • Are you in pain?
  • Is there a small red or pink spot visible inside the tooth?
  • Is the tooth itself bleeding (not the gums)?
  • Is the tooth broken off to the level of the gums?
  • Is the remaining portion of the tooth in a different position or angulation in your mouth? (Was it “moved” by the trauma?)
  • Is the chipped area tender to cold air or touching with your fingernail?
    • Is there a sharp edge that is cutting your lip, cheek or tongue?
    • Is the tooth sensitive to cold foods and drinks?
    • Is the chip visible to the naked eye?
    • Does the chip expose the inner structure of the tooth?
  • Small and not noticeable
  • Does not effect the biting surface
  • Does not cause pain
  • Is not jabbing or cutting lips or gums

What are the Treatment Options for Chipped Teeth?

The treatment for chipped teeth depends on the size of the chip and how much of the tooth is affected.  We repair most small chips with tooth-colored filling material.  Large chips require coverage of the tooth with a veneer or crown.  A large chip that extends below the gums gives any dental treatment a poor long-term prognosis, so this type of tooth needs an extraction.

We can address very tiny chips with a rough or sharp edge by simply smoothing off the sharp edge and blending it into the rest of the tooth.

It is important to note that repairing a chipped tooth with tooth-colored filling material may not be a permanent solution.  Often, the restoration itself will also chip, requiring future repairs.  If this becomes a common occurrence, speak to your dentist about other treatment options that are less likely to need further work in the future.

How Can You Prevent Chipped Teeth?

Once you lose tooth enamel, you can never re-grow it.  We can replace it with other dental materials, but nothing is as good as the real thing.  It is always better to prevent problems than fix them.

Not all injuries are preventable, so you should work to prevent the ones that are.  If you play contact sports, wear an athletic mouthguard.  Always wear your seatbelt in the car, whether you are the driver or a passenger.

In order to prevent microtrauma, you should wear a professional nightguard to protect your teeth from heavy clenching and/or grinding.  Some people have no clue that they are grinding their teeth.  If you are not sure, ask your dentist.  Heavy bruxism always leaves some telltale signs inside the mouth.  You can also reduce microtrauma by avoiding certain very hard foods like almonds, hard candy and ice.

More Questions about Chipped Teeth?

Call your nearest Premier Dental of Ohio location today to schedule a consultation with our excellent dentists.  We can assess your situation and discuss your various treatment options.