Cracked Molar

Dr. Erica Aand
Written by
Dr. Erica Aand
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Evidence Based
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While a cracked molar is common, it is usually unexpected and met with pain and discomfort. Fortunately, there are several ways to realize if you have a cracked molar. Modern dentistry offers several treatment types to get your smile back-on-track. It is always best to address dental issues quickly before they progress and leave you with long-term problems. 

cracked molar

Symptoms of a Cracked Molar

The most common symptoms of a cracked molar include pain when eating or exposure to high or low-temperature foods. There are other signs your tooth may be cracked that include:

  • Food getting caught when eating
  • Chronic toothache 
  • Increased sensitivity to temperature changes
  • Infection (abscess or facial swelling)
  • A hole or crater in the tooth
  • Fractured cusp of a tooth
  • Craze lines indicating a fracture or injury
  • Dark or discolored teeth

Will a Cracked Molar Hurt?

Tooth pain will vary and depend on the degree that your tooth is cracked. If you have a small chip or fracture, there is a chance you won’t experience any discomfort. If you have a broken tooth that has a more extensive fracture, there is a good chance it can cause a toothache because a portion of the tooth is missing. When the enamel and dentin layers of the tooth that protect the pulp, or nerve, of the tooth go missing, it can cause increased sensitivity to hot and cold foods and spicy or sweet foods. 

Some people will have no visible signs of pain because the tooth is necrotic or dead. This indicates the tooth may need root canal therapy to be saved and avoid potential pain and infection.

How Do Teeth Break?

Numerous reasons can cause a tooth to break. Common causes include:

  • Biting down into a hard food
  • Large fillings that break down
  • Untreated tooth decay
  • Clenching and grinding while sleeping or due to stress
  • Brittle teeth following a root canal or large filling that needs a dental crown

Can a Fractured Molar Be Saved?

Treatment for a cracked molar depends on the extent of the fracture. Small cracks typically require only a small dental filling, while larger fractures require full coverage like a dental crown. A dental crown provides more stability for a tooth to avoid future long-term problems. 

If a tooth is cracked below the gum line or has a vertical root fracture, specific endodontic surgical procedures can help save the tooth, and a root canal and dental crown will be needed. If the fracture is so large the tooth is non-restorable, then an extraction may be necessary. A tooth can then be replaced with a dental bridge or dental implant. 

What to Do if You Have a Cracked Molar

If you notice a piece of your tooth cracked, you should schedule a dental appointment with your dentist as soon as possible. This is to ensure there are no significant problems, and your tooth can be quickly repaired. 

Cracked Molar Repair

Your dentist will clinically examine your tooth and take a dental x-ray to ensure your tooth can be restored. General dentistry offers an array of professional treatment options for cracked molars that include:

  • Dental fillings — small fractures of teeth can be restored with a white composite resin or amalgam mercury filling. 
  • Dental crown — larger cusp fractures or older fillings that fracture will need more support by a dental crown. A dental crown will cover the entire tooth to give it more protection from biting and chewing forces.
  • Root canal therapy sometimes, a tooth fracture is deep enough that requires a root canal to help save your tooth. A dental crown will be necessary to help cover and protect your tooth. 
  • Tooth removal — if your tooth cannot be saved because you have an infection or it cannot be restored, an extraction will be recommended.

Other treatment plans may be available depending on the cause of the cracked molar. If you are teeth grinding while sleeping (bruxism), you may benefit from a custom night guard to prevent stress on your teeth. Sometimes extensive dental work or orthodontics can cause poor teeth contacts leading to pressure on specific areas of your molars. You may need a simple adjustment of your occlusion to prevent these molars from being susceptible to fracturing. 

How to Relieve Pain From a Cracked Molar

If you cannot see your dentist immediately, the best remedies to keep your teeth safe temporarily are to avoid hard and crunchy foods and rinse with a warm salt rinse as an antibacterial precaution. You can take an over-the-counter medication like ibuprofen or acetaminophen if needed for pain relief. There are also over-the-counter temporary dental filling materials to help seal your tooth from bacteria until you get an appointment with your dentist. 

When to Make a Dentist Appointment 

Dentists recommend making a dental appointment if you have a cracked tooth. The longer you wait, the greater risk that your tooth will have further damage and expensive treatment. 

Some dentists will treat your tooth at an emergency dental visit. If your tooth cannot be repaired the same day, your dentist can review any necessary treatment and prescribe pain medication and antibiotics if needed.

Risks of an Untreated Cracked Molar

Without proper treatment of a cracked molar, you risk the loss of your tooth. Dental emergencies can be time-sensitive; therefore, your tooth may need to be treated urgently depending on the severity of the fracture. A small fracture may not be a significant treatment initially, but it can lead to extensive and costly dental care if left untreated. A larger cracked molar can lead to pain, infection, and tooth extraction. 

Resources

“Cracked Teeth.” American Association of Endodontists, https://www.aae.org/patients/dental-symptoms/cracked-teeth/

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