If you break a bone, you probably know you should seek medical attention right away. You'll undoubtedly be in pain and unable to use the part of the body you broke. But what happens when you break a tooth? After all, sometimes only part of a tooth breaks off and you might not feel any pain. It might even seem like your tooth still works just fine.
A broken tooth is usually caused by trauma -- from biting down on something hard like a bagel chip to receiving a blow to the face. Tooth decay can also weaken a tooth, eventually causing it to break. Sometimes a broken tooth will cause a toothache or jaw pain; other times you might feel only mild tooth sensitivity.
If you have a broken tooth, consider it a dental emergency and call an emergency dentist right away! While broken teeth can range in size and severity from a chipped tooth to a completely knocked out tooth, any dental trauma warrants immediate attention. Even though you might not feel any pain, there may be damage to the tooth or its roots that you don't know about. And this damage may eventually lead to pain or tooth loss.
Self-Help Tips for Broken Teeth
Before you get to the dentist, follow some self-care tips:
Save any broken teeth pieces. If it was a clean break, your dentist may be able to cement the broken tooth back together as a temporary fix. If possible, put the broken tooth fragments or completely knocked out tooth in a container with a small amount of milk or saline.
Rinse broken teeth fragments with warm water. If a tooth is completely knocked out, hold it by the crown (top) and rinse it off with water. Do not touch the roots of the tooth or try to scrape the roots to remove dirt.
Practice some first-aid basics. If an area is bleeding, rinse out your mouth with water. Place a piece of gauze or tissue in the socket and bite down. A cold compress can help with swelling and pain.
Call the dentist. If you have a completely knocked out tooth, there is a 30-minute window in which it can effectively be reattached. After 24 hours, chances decrease significantly.
Repairing Broken Teeth
Dental treatment for a broken tooth depends on the severity of the break. A tooth filling is used to fix breaks to the outer part of the tooth (the enamel). A dental filling may also be used for a more serious break involving the enamel and inner layer of the tooth (dentin), but often a dental crown is necessary in these cases. The most serious breaks are those that damage a tooth's nerve. These usually require a root canal to remove the damaged nerve and blood vessels.
An Ounce of Prevention
An accident isn't something you can prevent, but there are a couple of things you can do to lower your risk of a broken tooth should you come in harm's way. Always wear a mouthguard when playing contact sports. Mouthguards protect not only your teeth but your lips, cheeks and tongue, too. Avoiding certain foods can also lower your risk for broken teeth. Stay away from hard foods such as tough breads, hard candy and popcorn kernels. And don't use your teeth to pry open packages or bottles.
If you've got a broken tooth or knocked out tooth, call your dentist right away! A dentist can determine the level of damage done and attempt to restore the broken tooth.