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Updated on July 25, 2022

Chipped Tooth

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Common Causes of Chipped Teeth

Chipped or broken teeth are common dental injuries that may happen for various reasons, including:1

  • Biting on hard foods, like ice cubes, hard candy, or nuts
  • Chewing unevenly
  • Falling and hitting your mouth on a hard surface
  • Using your teeth as tools
  • Grinding teeth (bruxism) and jaw clenching
  • Developing tooth decay (cavities) that weaken teeth
  • Having large fillings that don't support the tooth structure
  • Receiving blows to the mouth during sports 
dentist holding teeth model edited 1 scaled

Symptoms of a Chipped Tooth

When you chip a tooth, a piece of the hard, protective enamel breaks off. Minor chips may not expose the tooth's inner dentin or be painful, but you may notice a jagged edge on the tooth that you can feel with your tongue or finger.2

However, if a large piece of tooth enamel breaks off, it may expose the dentin, and your chipped or broken tooth may feel sensitive or painful.

Depending on the size and location of the chip, it could be difficult to identify without your dentist's help.

Here are some other warning signs to look out for:3

  • Tooth pain when eating — although this can indicate cracked teeth, the pain may be sporadic and only happen when you bite down in a specific way or eat certain foods.
  • Increased sensitivity — you may develop sensitive teeth when eating cold foods like ice cream or drinking hot liquids like tea or coffee.
  • Infection — bacteria can become trapped in the damaged area of a chipped tooth, leading to an infection.

How to Fix a Chipped Tooth At Home (Temporarily)

If you can’t see your dentist immediately to repair a chipped tooth, use dental wax or an over-the-counter temporary filling material to cover the jagged edges until your appointment. However, there is a risk of choking or aspiration when using temporary materials without the supervision of a dentist.

Other alternatives include protective mouth guards or plastic retainers that shield your tongue and the inside of your cheek from damage.

It's important to remember that you're not a trained professional, and these solutions are only temporary. You shouldn't attempt to smooth down sharp edges with files or sandpaper as you could worsen the chip, damage the tooth's integrity, or introduce bacteria into the affected area.

It’s best to see a dentist as soon as possible to fix the tooth properly and avoid complications.

Professional Treatments for Chipped Teeth

Treatment depends on the location and severity of the chip. Options to repair or cover the damaged part of a tooth include bonding with tooth-colored resin or crowns.4

You may require more extensive treatment, such as a root canal treatment if the tooth has become infected. In some cases, you may also need antibiotics.

Dental Composite Filling

If the damaged area is small, your dentist may recommend a resin-based composite dental filling. This is a straightforward procedure that doesn't require anesthesia and can be completed in one appointment.

A "composite filling" is a tooth-colored resin that looks natural. Your dentist roughens the tooth's surface to allow the composite material to stick. Once the enamel and dentin have been prepared with phosphoric acid, dental bonding agents and restorative composite materials complete the process.

Lastly, the dental provider shapes the composite material to your tooth and hardens it with an ultraviolet light.5

Dental Crown

If the damage is more significant and a large chip is missing, your dentist might suggest a dental crown. This ‘cap’ fits over the entire tooth to restore its functionality and appearance.

The procedure involves grinding away part of the remaining tooth and covering it with a tooth-shaped cap or crown. A crown can be made from porcelain-fused-to-metal, gold, ceramic, or zirconium

Although gold crowns are the most biocompatible, porcelain ceramic, and zirconium crowns are most likely to resemble the original tooth and blend in with the surrounding teeth.

Crown placement usually requires two visits. During the first appointment, your dentist checks the roots of your tooth by taking x-rays. If there are no concerns with the vitality of the tooth, they'll numb it. 

While waiting for the numbing to take effect, they’ll take an impression of the tooth and the opposite tooth that touches it when you bite. 

Next, the dentist will prepare the tooth for a crown by using a dental drill. A temporary crown will be placed to protect the tooth while you wait for the permanent one.

The second visit takes place 2 to 3 weeks later. It involves removing the temporary crown and fitting the permanent crown in position.

Dental crowns usually last 5 to 15 years, depending on wear and tear and oral hygiene.6

What Happens if You Don’t Fix a Chipped Tooth?

If you have an unrepaired chipped tooth, it can increase your risk of cavities, sensitivity, and more serious oral conditions. For example, the tooth could crack further or break completely, and you may need a tooth extraction or root canal.

A chipped tooth is more exposed to bacteria and the risk of infection. If you develop an infection, it can lead to a painful abscess, which is a pocket of pus that forms around a tooth. Abscesses are dental emergencies. Left untreated, they can damage the surrounding bone and spread to other parts of the body.

The longer you wait to see a dentist, the more serious and painful the problem can become.

What to Do About a Minorly Chipped Tooth

A tooth that’s not badly damaged may not require treatment if it only affects the superficial enamel. However, you shouldn't assume the chip is small as the full extent of the damage may be difficult to see.

Oral health is integral to your overall well being. Make an appointment with your dentist so they can fully assess any chipped or damaged teeth. 

Summary

A chipped tooth is a common dental problem that can happen because of trauma, biting on hard objects, or teeth grinding.

The best way to deal with a chipped tooth and avoid dental problems is to see a dentist as soon as possible. If left untreated, it can lead to further damage, cavities, or infection. Depending on the extent of the damage, your dentist may recommend a dental filling or crown.

Minor chips in teeth may not require treatment. But it's always best to see your dentist in case the damage is more significant than it appears.

6 Sources Cited
Last updated on July 25, 2022
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. Cracked teeth.” The American Association of Endodontists
  2. Patnana, A, K,. et al. “Tooth fracture.” Stat Pearls, 2021
  3. Liu, X., et al. “Pathogenesis, diagnosis and management of dentin hypersensitivity: an evidence-based overview for dental practitioners.” BMC Oral Health, 2020
  4. Hilton, T,. et al. “Recommended treatment of cracked teeth: Results from the National Dental Practice-Based Research Network.” The Journal of Prosthetic Dentistry, 2019
  5. Dental Bonding.” The Cleveland Clinic, 2018
  6. Dental Crowns.” The Cleveland Clinic, 2020
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