Why Do Teeth Stain?

Stained teeth can be just as embarrassing as misaligned or disfigured teeth. Even dulled and yellowed teeth may give you pause before readily sharing your smile with others.

But there are ways to overcome staining and restore the natural brilliance your teeth should have. It begins first with finding the true cause for the discoloration and using the appropriate techniques to brighten your smile once again.

Uncovering the Source of Tooth Staining

There are two types of tooth staining—stains that occur on the outside of the tooth (extrinsic) and those that occur from within (intrinsic). Determining the type of staining you have is the first step to brighter, more attractive teeth.

Extrinsic stains happen because of the structure of tooth enamel. While your teeth may feel smooth, the enamel actually contains microscopic depressions. These have a tendency to catch and retain stain-producing substances that come into our mouths. Food or beverages like red wine or tea (with chemicals called tannins) can stain, as well as tobacco. Even substances used for oral hygiene, like the anti-bacterial ingredient chlorhexidine, can stain teeth. Fluoride, a naturally occurring chemical that strengthens enamel against tooth decay, may cause a brownish discoloration if consumed in quantities above recommended levels during tooth development.

You may also have a greater tendency for extrinsic staining if your saliva flow is lower than normal. Among its many properties, saliva helps clear the mouth of food debris after we eat; when saliva levels are too low more food particles remain in the mouth longer, increasing the potential staining effect of these foods.

Intrinsic staining, on the other hand, stems from causes within the tooth. Certain materials used for dental fillings or traumatic tooth injuries can alter tooth color significantly. In some cases, the tooth may not appear discolored viewed by itself, but stands out in relation to nearby teeth with a different shade of color. Antibiotic treatment, particularly tetracycline may also cause intrinsic staining if taken during tooth development.

Restoring Brightness to Stained Teeth

The treatment approach for stained teeth will depend on whether the staining has an extrinsic or intrinsic cause. For some extrinsic staining, changes in diet and lifestyle—like avoiding or limiting foods known to stain or quitting the use of any form of tobacco—will help reduce mild staining. Along with flossing, twice-daily brushing with fluoride toothpaste that contains a whitening agent can remove stain-causing food remnants and add some brightness to your teeth. Twice-yearly visits to your dentist for professional teeth cleaning and polishing can also reduce extrinsic staining.

Teeth whitening (or bleaching) is another option, especially for extrinsic staining that doesn’t fully respond to lifestyle or hygiene changes. Most teeth whitening choices are either home kits you purchase from a drugstore or your dentist, or professional applications by a dental provider. Both types use similar bleaching agents; the chemical concentrations in professional applications, though, are usually stronger, and along with other techniques can produce a brighter result with one session (as opposed to several weeks for home kits). Professional applications will also last longer on average before fading, a year or more if you limit staining foods in your diet and practice consistent hygiene.

While there are actions you can take to diminish extrinsic staining, intrinsic staining is another matter. Only a dentist can perform bleaching techniques for stains originating inside a tooth, since it requires access to the tooth’s interior. One such technique places a bleaching agent in a tooth’s pulp chamber during a root canal treatment before the dentist fills and seals the tooth.

There are also cosmetic restorations that can be used to cover a heavily stained or discolored tooth, regardless of the source. A porcelain veneer, for example, is a thin layer of dental porcelain that’s permanently bonded to the front of a tooth. A veneer is fabricated by a dental technician to exactly match a patient’s normal tooth color, even down to hue gradations along the length of the tooth. Once applied, the veneer masks the stains of the underlying tooth, while color-blending with adjacent teeth.

A veneer and similar restorations may require some permanent tooth alteration before bonding; and while the veneer doesn’t stain, natural teeth near it can, and may need to be whitened occasionally to maintain a balanced color match.

Making the Right Choices for Treating Stained Teeth

If you’re concerned about stained teeth, be sure to visit your dentist first—knowing whether the discoloration comes from causes outside the tooth or within it will put you on the right treatment track, as well as save you possible disappointment and unnecessary expenses.

Your dentist is also your best source for advice on what types of treatments will work best for you and the costs involved. Knowing all the facts will help you make the right choices to brighten—and reinvigorate—your smile.

What Can I Do About My Missing Teeth?

Your smile is often times the first thing that others notice about you. If you have missing teeth, however, the thought of anyone noticing your grin might be the last thing you want. In fact, sometimes people who have missing teeth go to great lengths to conceal it. For instance, they may avoid smiling, smile with their mouth closed, or even cover their mouth when talking. It’s not that they aren’t friendly, but rather embarrassed of their missing teeth. If this sounds familiar, know that you aren’t alone. The American College of Prosthodontists reports that “more than 35 million Americans do not have any teeth, and 178 million people in the U.S. are missing at least one tooth.” Let’s take a look at some causes of missing teeth, the consequence of not replacing them and how you can affordably replace missing teeth.

What causes missing teeth?

Some of the most common reasons for missing teeth are tooth decay, gum disease, dental injuries, dental extractions, wear and tear, and even genetics. Genetic disorders can prevent your permanent teeth from ever coming in. When six or less permanent teeth fail to develop, it’s known as hypodontia. When more than six permanent teeth fail to develop, it’s known as oligodontia.

Missing teeth can negatively impact a lot of areas of your life. That’s because your teeth play a starring role in proper chewing, word pronunciation, clear communication, confidence, first impressions, job opportunities, and your oral health to name a few. Let’s take a look at how missing teeth can impact some of these different areas.

Missing teeth and job interviews

Imagine that you’ve applied for a job. Your resume fits the bill and your potential future employer wants to schedule an in-person interview. You arrive early and nail all of the questions thrown your way, but don’t get called back. It’s not because you aren’t qualified, but because you didn’t smile in efforts to hide your missing teeth. It may be harsh, but the reality is that snap judgments based on appearance, including someone’s smile and teeth, happen all the time.

CollegeAtlas.org, a resource for college and higher education opportunities, performed a survey of more than 2,000 hiring managers. The survey reports that within 90 seconds of meeting a job candidate, 1/3 of the hiring managers had made a decision about whether they would hire that person. The hiring managers cited not smiling during the job interview as the third most common nonverbal mistake.

Aside from missing teeth impacting your livelihood, there are also oral health concerns that can arise.

Consequences of not replacing missing teeth

You might think that a missing tooth is just that, but there’s more to it. There are three rather interesting things that can happen to your other teeth, gums and jawbone overtime if you don’t replace missing teeth: malocclusion, super eruption and bone resorption. Let’s break down what each of these mean.

In dentistry, the term occlusion refers to your bite. It’s how your upper and lower jaw fit together when chewing or at rest. Malocclusion is essentially a bad bite. Malocclusion can occur when you have missing teeth because the teeth surrounding the gap will shift to try and close it.

When something erupts, it bursts forth like a volcano. Super eruption means the tooth has emerged too far. Super eruption can happen to the teeth opposite of your missing teeth because there isn’t an opposing force to stop it.

Merriam-Webster’s definition of resorb is “to swallow or suck in again” and “to break down and assimilate the components of”. That’s exactly what can happen to your gums and jawbone when you have missing teeth. Without teeth to stimulate the gums and jawbone they begin to wither, creating hollowness to your face.

Dental care for missing teeth

Due to the cost of dental care, sometimes replacing missing teeth doesn’t seem like an option. The good news is that a dental savings plan makes restoring your missing teeth convenient and affordable. Dental savings plans start at around $80 for an annual individual membership, or just $15 a month.

Plus, you can save anywhere from 10% to 60% off the cost of most dental procedures, including the three common treatment options for missing teeth: bridges, dental implants and partial dentures. Plus, dental savings plans don’t have a waiting period — even for these major dental services. You’ll be able to start using your dental savings plan right away.

If you’re missing one or more teeth, make an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible to reduce your risk of developing further complications. Restoring your smile can have a positive impact on the way people view you, as well as how you view yourself.

What to do About Loose Teeth in Babies and Children

Is a loose tooth a joyous occasion or cause for concern? The answer depends largely on the age at which you experience it. For a first-grader, a loose tooth signifies a normal phase of development. For an adult, it means that it’s time to see a dentist—fast. Let’s examine in more detail the conditions that cause baby teeth and adult teeth to loosen.

Loose Baby Tooth

If you are old enough to read this, you have undoubtedly experienced first-hand the process of losing baby teeth. Our 20 baby teeth begin loosening and falling out around age 6, although it can occur a year or so earlier or later. What makes them do this? It’s actually the pressure from the permanent teeth growing in beneath them. As the new adult teeth push up against the roots of the baby teeth, those roots are gradually broken down and absorbed by the body. Without support from its roots, the baby tooth becomes wobbly and falls out. When you look at a baby tooth that has been shed, you may notice that it appears to be just the top part; that’s not because the roots were left beneath the gum—it’s because they have been absorbed by the body.

Having a loose primary (baby) tooth can become uncomfortable and annoying—especially while eating. It’s important, however, for a child with a loose tooth to continue to eat healthy foods (soup may be a soothing choice) and to keep up a good daily oral hygiene routine. If your child wants you to pull the tooth out, you can grasp it with a tissue and give it a gentle turn. If it is resistant, don’t force it; the tooth will shed in time.

A lost tooth can sometimes leave a small wound. You can stop any bleeding with pressure from a wet washcloth or gauze pad. Then it’s time to put the tooth under your child’s pillow! The loss of the first tooth is the perfect occasion to remind children how important it is to take good care of their “forever teeth.”

Baby teeth are usually lost in the same order in which they erupted—first the two bottom front teeth, followed by the four top front teeth. But if a baby tooth is loosened or lost before its time as a result of a traumatic dental injury, the child should see a dentist. If the tooth has been completely knocked out, the dentist may recommend a space maintainer. This is a small loop of wire that prevents the teeth on either side of the empty space from shifting toward each other. It holds the space open for the permanent tooth that will replace the lost baby tooth, and helps ensure proper bite alignment.

Loose Permanent Tooth

As with baby teeth, permanent teeth can also become wobbly when they lose support—in this case, not from the disintegration of the tooth roots, but from the loss of tooth-supporting bone. This is usually caused by advanced periodontal (gum) disease—a bacterial infection that attacks the tissues that hold the teeth in place, including gums, ligaments and bone. It usually results from ineffective oral hygiene that leads, over time, to a build-up of dental plaque and hardened plaque deposits (calculus or tartar) on the tooth root surfaces beneath the gum line. If you have periodontal disease, you will likely need to see a periodontist (gum specialist).

A less common reason for permanent teeth to become loose is from severe teeth clenching or grinding habits. In other words, there is no disease present but the teeth are being subjected to excessive forces. It’s also possible for both to be the case—periodontal disease combined with clenching/grinding.

Permanent teeth can also become loosened due to a traumatic dental injury.

Regardless of what caused the problem, loose permanent teeth need immediate care to have the best chance of being saved. Treatment will be tailored to the individual situation, but may include any of the following:

  • Deep cleaning: A thorough periodontal cleaning will remove plaque deposits and bacteria from all surfaces of the teeth. This is an essential starting point for dealing with gum disease.
  • Splinting: Sometimes a loose tooth can be joined to its neighbors for added support with a splint—a thin piece of metal that is bonded to the back or tops of the teeth.
  • Bite adjustment: Minute amounts of tooth enamel are removed to prevent the loose tooth from receiving excessive or misdirected forces, thereby protecting it and allowing healing to take place.
  • Nightguard: A smooth, plastic oral appliance that resembles a sports mouthguard can be worn at night (or during stressful times) to reduce force on the teeth and jaws.
  • Periodontal surgery: In certain cases of advanced disease, the periodontist may need to access diseased areas covered by gum tissue or rebuild tissue that has been destroyed by disease.

If you are experiencing tooth looseness, the best place to start is a consultation with your general dentist.

Jaw Pain: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment Options

The jaw is a complex anatomical structure—but essentially, you can think of its many parts as forming a kind of hinge for your mouth. The lower jawbone (mandible) is attached to your skull (temporal bone) by a unique pair of joints called the temporomandibular joints (TMJs). These joints have a ball-and-socket arrangement with a shock-absorbing disk in between, allowing both a hinging and a sliding motion. As with any joint, movements are controlled by muscles and nerves.

But there’s more: sitting within your jawbones are your teeth and the gums that protect them. We use our jaws for eating, talking, and many other daily functions—so it’s no surprise that stress, disease or injury can create problems in this area. These problems often begin with jaw pain.

Pain is your body’s way of alerting you that something is wrong—a signal that should not be ignored if it is persistent or acute. If you are experiencing jaw pain, it’s a good idea to get it checked out by your dentist. He or she will examine you, sometimes with the aid of x-rays, to determine the cause of your pain and the best way to relieve it. Jaw pain can be traced to a number of causes. The most common ones include:

TMD

The phrase Temporomandibular Disorders (TMD) refers to a group of conditions that cause chronic pain and/or dysfunction in the area of the jaw joint, also known as the TMJ (temporomandibular joint). With TMD, the source of the pain can be the joint itself or the muscles that surround it.

Illustration showing the location of the temporomandibular joint.

People with TMD often experience pain while chewing, difficulty opening or closing their jaws, and/or a clicking sound during jaw movement. Yet the exact cause of TMD pain can be difficult to pinpoint; it may result from nighttime clenching or teeth-grinding habits, or from various other conditions that affect joints in general. These may include arthritis, disk problems, strained tendons and ligaments, and inflammation.

Experts recommend taking a conservative approach regarding TMD, at least initially. This includes a temporary switch to a softer diet; hot compresses or ice packs; and/or over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen. Fortunately, most cases of TMD will in time resolve themselves without more complex treatments. If TMD pain does not respond to conservative measures, other treatments, such as orthodontics, dental restorations or injections, may be explored—but surgery is not generally recommended.

Tooth or Gum Problems

Jaw pain doesn’t always originate in the joint: In some cases, it may be alerting you to a dental problem that requires immediate attention. One of these is a gum abscess, which is a pus-filled sac that develops beneath the gum line. An abscess can result from untreated gum disease, or may be caused by a trapped food particle that has developed an infection around it. Draining the abscess will usually stop the pain immediately, although a course of antibiotics may also be prescribed to completely clear up the infection.

Deep tooth decay can also be felt as jaw pain. This, too, is the result of a bacterial infection that has eroded the hard enamel covering of the tooth and reached the sensitive inner pulp. This condition is usually treated with a root canal procedure. Any type of infection serious enough to cause pain can result in tooth looseness or even loss if not cared for promptly.

Traumatic Injury

A traumatic injury to the face can also cause various painful jaw problems, including a bone fracture, dislocation of the joint, swelling, and/or muscle spasm. This is sometimes accompanied by loosened or displaced teeth or gum injury. If you suffer a fall, sports injury or other type of accident involving the face or head, a trip to the ER is usually advised—not only to treat any oral/facial pain that has resulted, but also to rule out a brain injury.

Minor jaw injuries and soreness can sometimes be relieved with cold packs applied to the face, anti-inflammatory medication, and avoidance of foods that are difficult to bite or chew. But if you can’t get relief in any of these ways, be sure to see your general dentist promptly. He or she can diagnose your condition and refer you to a specialist if necessary.

Can I Stop My Gums From Receding?

The gum tissue that surrounds your teeth plays an important role in both the health and appearance of your smile. Your gums act as a barrier to protect the jaw bone that supports your teeth from harmful bacteria, and the tooth-root surfaces beneath the gum line from the wear and tear they would otherwise be subjected to from biting and chewing food. The right amount of healthy, pink gum tissue is also a major component of an attractive smile. Sometimes, however, the gum tissue surrounding one or more teeth can shrink down, exposing the root surfaces. This gum recession can create cosmetic and health issues because, unlike the upper (crown) portion of your teeth, tooth roots are not covered by pearly-white enamel. That’s why exposed roots look darker than the rest of the tooth. Exposed roots are also more prone to decay, and may become sensitive to hot or cold foods.

Causes of Gum Recession

Gum recession has a variety of causes:

  • Ineffective oral hygiene. If dental plaque is allowed to remain on your teeth, the bacteria it contains can irritate your gums and cause them to recede. Daily brushing and flossing are extremely important to maintain oral health.
  • Overzealous tooth brushing or flossing. This may sound like a contradiction to the above, but it really isn’t: effective doesn’t mean harsh: Rough scrubbing can actually cause your gum tissue to suffer abrasion and cause them to recede from the teeth. Using a brush with bristles that are too hard can do the same. Your dental hygienist can give you tips on tools and techniques.
  • Poorly Fitting Oral Appliances. If you are experiencing discomfort from dentures, braces, retainers, or any other type of removable or fixed-in oral appliance, be sure to let your dentist know. Appliances that don’t fit correctly can damage gums by rubbing against them.
  • Habits/Lifestyle Choices. Believe it or not, repetitively chewing on ice, and other hard objects such as fingernails or pencils can cause gum recession; so can oral ornaments such as lip and tongue piercings.

Treatment of Gum Recession

Gum recession doesn’t always need treatment right away. For example, if you have minor areas of recession that are not getting worse and are not very noticeable when you smile, you and your dentist may choose simply to keep an eye on the situation over time. On the other hand, prompt treatment may be advisable if you are experiencing uncomfortable sensitivity; if the root surfaces of your teeth are starting to decay, or the bone surrounding them is deteriorating—or if you simply don’t like the aesthetic impact of gum recession on your smile.

Treatment for gum recession often involves a grafting procedure, in which tissue is moved from one site in the mouth to another. For example, a very thin layer of skin can be taken from the roof of the mouth (which is of the same tissue type as your gums) and placed over exposed tooth roots. Another technique involves moving adjacent (nearby) gum tissue so that it reaches an exposed root. It’s also possible to use grafting materials that have been developed with laboratory-processed tissue. This eliminates the need for a second surgical site—the one that would be created where tissue was removed for use as a graft.

All of these grafting techniques are routine procedures usually performed by a periodontist (gum specialist). They are normally carried out in a dental office under local anesthesia. Your dentist can explain in more detail what each type of treatment involves and which would be the best choice for you. Treatment for gum recession often makes a person look younger, and can sometimes be combined with teeth whitening or veneers for an even more rejuvenated look.

After your gum recession has been treated, you’ll need to keep your oral hygiene up to par so as not to jeopardize your results. A good first step in dealing with gum recession is to consult with your general dentist. He or she can assess your oral hygiene, evaluate the condition of your gums, and refer you to an appropriate specialist if needed.

How Do You Treat Swollen Gums?

Gums can become swollen for a variety of reasons, not all of which require an immediate trip to the dentist’s office. However, while not an emergency, swollen gums signal that something is wrong and you will need professional care. Swelling can occur overnight because of a foreign body getting stuck below the gums, causing an infection similar to a splinter in your finger. It could also be the first sign of gum disease. Let’s take a closer look at some possible causes for gum swelling and what can help relieve it.

Gingivitis

Gingivitis (“gingival” = gums, “itis” = inflammation) is a common gum irritation caused by less-than-adequate or inefficient oral hygiene. An early stage of gum disease, gingivitis is characterized by gum swelling, redness and/or bleeding during brushing or flossing of the teeth. This inflammation is your body’s way of fighting harmful bacteria in the dental plaque that builds up on your teeth when they aren’t cleaned effectively. If gingivitis is the cause of your gum swelling, try taking a little extra time to make sure your brushing and flossing is up to par; you may find that this will reduce the swelling in just 7 to 14 days, and certainly the bleeding will stop. If you are unsure if your gums are still swollen or of how to brush or how to floss effectively, your dentist or dental hygienist can give you a refresher course.

Gingivitis can be aggravated by the hormones of pregnancy. But even if that is the case, it’s important to remember that the presence of harmful bacteria is what’s causing the gingivitis—not the pregnancy itself. Pregnancy hormones causes a change in the chemistry below the gums, allowing for more powerful bacteria to flourish. These bacteria must be controlled with proper oral hygiene and regular professional teeth cleanings, or this mild form of gum disease could progress to periodontitis (“peri” = around, “odont” = tooth, “itis” = inflammation) and bone loss.

Orthodontic treatment can also make a person more susceptible to gingivitis and swollen gums for two reasons: For one, braces can make it difficult to remove all the plaque between teeth and at the gum line; for another, the gum tissues occasionally react to the presence of orthodontic hardware by swelling and overgrowing. If this is the case, your orthodontist will consider referring you back to your general dentist or periodontist for proper treatment. He or she may recommend that you use special appliances (such as interdental cleaners or floss holders) to better clean your teeth where oral appliances may interfere.

Gum Infection

Sometimes a more serious gum infection can develop when bacteria related to gum disease or a foreign object (such as a piece of popcorn) becomes sealed off beneath the gum line. This can create a pus-filled abscess under your gums. This condition can be quite painful, but isn’t always. If you have a gum abscess, it will need to be treated by your dentist or periodontist (gum specialist). The abscess will be drained, and you may also receive antibiotics. Depending on what caused the abscess—gum disease or an infection in the tooth’s pulp tissue, for example—periodontal treatment or a root canal may also be needed.

Pulp Infection

Gum swelling can also indicate deep decay within a tooth, which has spread into the gum via the tooth’s root. This is less likely to happen if you make regular visits to your general dentist, when he or she can detect and treat minor cavities before they become significant problems. Untreated decay can spread deeper and deeper into the tooth until it reaches the soft central tissue, called pulp. If the pulp within your tooth is infected or has died, a root canal treatment may be needed to save the tooth. If the tooth can’t be saved, it will require extraction.

Other Causes

Less common causes of gum swelling include:

  • Nutritional deficiency, particularly of vitamin C. Make sure your diet includes plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables to avoid this problem.
  • Systemic disease; uncontrolled diabetes, for example, can affect your periodontal health.
  • Oral care products; if you have switched to a new toothpaste or mouthwash recently, it may be that your gums are sensitive (think allergy) to an ingredient in it.
  • Medication; certain drugs (anti-seizure medications, for example) may produce gum swelling as a side effect.
  • Poorly fitting oral appliances, such as dentures, can rub against the gums and cause irritation.

If your gums are bothering you, try to improve your oral hygiene and your diet while avoiding alcohol and tobacco, which can irritate swollen gums. If you are unsure of what is causing your gums to swell or are unable to get the situation under control in a reasonable amount of time, make sure to see your dentist.

How Do You Fix Crooked Teeth?

Crooked Teeth: Cause and Treatment

What’s the first thing you notice about a person’s smile? That question was asked recently as part of a survey by the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry—and the most frequent response was “straightness.” That helps explain why it may be hard to smile with confidence when your teeth are crooked… and why orthodontic treatment is generally considered a wise investment that can pay off big in terms of self-confidence in social and professional situations.

Causes

The technical term for crooked teeth is “maloclussion” (“mal” = bad, “occlusion” = bite). Malocclusions usually become evident around age 7, when a child has a mixture of baby teeth and permanent teeth. At this point it’s possible to see, for example, whether crowding is likely to result because the jaws aren’t large enough to accommodate the growing teeth—a problem which is often inherited. If the jaw doesn’t have enough room, those newly erupting teeth will push into each other, throwing off the bite.

Other common orthodontic problems are caused by detrimental habits, such as thumb sucking. A thumb exerting pressure on the teeth and jaws over time can cause a maloclussion known as an “open bite,” where the upper and lower front teeth don’t meet when the mouth is closed. Another cause of maloclussions is the premature loss of baby teeth due to decay or injury. If a baby tooth is shed prematurely, the permanent tooth beneath it may not be guided into proper position; instead, it may come in crooked.

Treatment

Crooked teeth that are otherwise healthy can be straightened at any age with orthodontics (“ortho” = straighten, “dont” = tooth). Orthodontists, the dentists who practice this specialty, use appliances such as braces to apply gentle, controlled forces to the teeth to move them into better alignment. If orthodontic problems are caught early, an orthodontist may use other appliances that take advantage of the rapid growth that occurs just before puberty. For example, a device called a palatal expander can be used to gently create more space for emerging permanent teeth.

Adult orthodontic treatment is now more popular than ever; presently, around one in five orthodontic patients is an adult. There are several types of orthodontic appliances that are particularly suited to adults. For example, Invisalign clear aligners allow adults (and older teens) a more discreet form of orthodontic treatment. Invisalign treatment can sometimes be performed by a general dentist who has received the required training.

Orthodontic treatment times can vary, but usually fall within the range of six months to three years. After initial treatment, no matter which type of appliance was used, it is crucial to wear retainers as directed. Retainers help hold your teeth in their new positions, and prevent them from moving back into their old arrangement. After all, you wouldn’t want your effort and investment in a beautiful smile to be wasted.

Straightened teeth have other benefits besides making your smile look great. Some people find that their teeth become easier to clean after orthodontic treatment because floss can now fit between them; cleaning your teeth effectively is your main defense against tooth decay and gum disease. Better tooth alignment can also prevent individual teeth from being subjected to more than their share of biting force, which could cause them to wear unevenly or be moved out of alignment. A well-aligned bite will distribute these forces evenly, and may even prevent jaw pain and headaches in the process. Whatever your reasons for fixing crooked teeth, you will no doubt be glad you did!

What Causes Teeth To Crack?

Although teeth are tough and durable, it’s possible for them to be cracked or fractured from a fall, an impact, a blow to the face, or another type of stress or trauma. Teeth that have suffered previous injury, have deep, untreated tooth decay, or are structurally compromised by old silver (amalgam) fillings may be more prone to cracking than undamaged teeth. There is even some evidence that more people are developing cracked teeth today due to longer life spans (leading to teeth becoming more brittle) and increased stress (leading to tooth grinding and clenching)—a condition dentists call “cracked tooth syndrome.”

Cracked teeth can be minor problems or serious issues. Tiny cracks in the tooth’s enamel (also called “craze lines”) don’t cause any discomfort, and don’t generally need to be treated. Most of the time, however, when you suffer from a cracked tooth you will know it right away—and you will need to seek treatment promptly.

In some cases, the affected tooth may produce immediate, sharp pain; in other cases, the discomfort may come and go in response to consuming hot or cold foods and beverages, or to biting and chewing. Either type of pain indicates that the tooth’s nerve has been damaged or exposed. In this situation, the tooth should be examined by a dentist and treated immediately.

Cracks can begin at the chewing surface or the root surface of teeth; they can extend only a slight distance, or can split the tooth into two or more parts. What kind of treatment is needed depends on how severely the tooth is damaged.

Craze Lines

These minor cracks involve only the outer enamel surface of the tooth, and don’t cause any symptoms. Common in adults, they are rarely serious and generally don’t need treatment (unless they get larger). However, they are sometimes polished away or sealed with dental materials for a better appearance.

Small Crack at Chewing Surface

Small cracks that don’t go below the gum line and don’t involve the pulp can often cause discomfort—but they are among the less serious types. They may be treatable with a filling, dental bonding, or a crown restoration, depending on the extent of the damage. Root canal treatment is usually not needed for minor cracks.

Fractured Cusp

Frequently seen in molars (back teeth), this condition occurs when a part of the tooth’s chewing surface becomes weakened, and begins to crack. This type of crack may cause minor discomfort, which can usually be relieved immediately by having a dentist carefully remove the cracked cusp. A dental crown or an onlay restoration, which is similar to a filling, is often recommended to restore the tooth to its full function and appearance. In many cases, a root canal is not necessary.

Large Cracks or Fractures

Cracks in the tooth can extend from the chewing surface all the way to the tooth’s roots. When the crack extends below the gum line, or if the pulp is involved, treatment becomes more complicated. Generally, if the root is in good condition, it is best to try and save the tooth via root canal treatment. However, in some cases—for example, a tooth that is split vertically or fractured into two parts—extraction will be necessary. Immediate evaluation is critical before the damage gets worse.

Root Fracture

These cracks begin at the tooth’s roots and extend toward the chewing surfaces. They are usually painful, and are often associated with infection in the tissues surrounding the tooth. When a tooth is fractured below the jawbone, it usually can’t be saved. If that’s the case, there are a number of tooth replacement methods, including dental implants and natural-tooth-supported bridges, which can give your smile back its pleasing appearance and full functionality.

How to Fix a Chipped or Broken Tooth

Having a chipped tooth isn’t an uncommon problem—in fact, according to the American Association of Endodontists (AAE), chipped teeth account for the majority of all dental injuries. Teeth can develop chips from a variety of causes: suffering a sudden stress or impact; losing structure at the site of an untreated cavity or an old, weakened filling; or biting down on a hard object, like candy, ice or fingernails. Regardless of how chipping occurs, your damaged tooth may be a cause for concern—but with appropriate care, it’s a problem that can usually be treated quite successfully.

What’s the best way to treat a chipped tooth? It all depends on the tooth’s location, and the type and extent of the injury it has suffered. Some of the procedures commonly used to restore chipped teeth include dental bonding, filings, and crowns. Root canal treatment may also be needed when the nerve in the tooth’s pulp is exposed. In this case, getting an immediate evaluation is important: Prompt care and appropriate treatment will give you the best chance of saving the tooth. Let’s look at some different degrees of chipping, and how they are treated.

Small to moderate chips

Very small chips at the edges of teeth may be fixed simply by polishing them with dental instruments to remove rough edges. These chips frequently occur near the biting surfaces of the front teeth. Small to moderate chips can often be repaired via dental bonding. In this process, your dentist will restore lost tooth structure by applying special high-tech materials to the tooth surface. Made up of a mixture of plastic resin and glass fillers, bonding material is strong, anchors firmly to the teeth, and looks extremely lifelike. Another advantage is that bonding can usually be performed in just one visit to the dental office, making it an economical treatment. Over time, however, the bonding material can chip or stain, and therefore may eventually need to be replaced. Porcelain veneers, which replace the whole front surface of the teeth with a hard, wafer-thin covering, are a more permanent (but more involved and costly) alternative. In most cases, small to moderate chips don’t constitute an emergency unless they are accompanied by pain.

Large chips

If a substantial part of the tooth has chipped off, it should be recovered and saved if possible. In some cases, your dentist may be able to reattach it via bonding. If part of the tooth’s cusp (the ridged chewing surface) has broken off, but the roots are intact, it can often be restored with an onlay (a type of filling that replaces part of the tooth’s chewing surface) or a full crown. However, if damage extends into the tooth’s pulp—the nerves, blood vessels and connective tissue deep inside the tooth—it will generally cause discomfort and pain, and will need prompt attention. This type of injury usually requires root canal treatment to remove the damaged pulp material prior to restoration with a dental crown. A root canal involves making a small hole in the tooth to access the pulp, and then removing the diseased and dead tissue with tiny instruments. The space inside the tooth is then disinfected and filled with biocompatible material, and the hole is permanently closed. A dental crown (cap) restores the tooth to its full function and aesthetic appearance.

Broken Tooth

This can be a serious condition that may involve sharp pain and bleeding, and requires quick action. Save the broken part of the tooth, if possible, and go to a dentist’s office immediately. When the break occurs above the gum line, the tooth can often be saved. A root canal procedure may be needed if the nerve has been exposed, and the tooth may then be restored by bonding or via a dental crown. If it is broken below the gum line, treatment becomes more complicated, and extraction may be necessary. However, several tooth replacement methods are available—including dental implants and natural-tooth-supported bridges—that can deliver functional and lifelike prosthetic teeth.

Discovering that you have a broken tooth can cause surprise, embarrassment, and sometimes pain—but fortunately, modern dentistry offers a variety of ways to restore your smile.

If you have a chipped or broken tooth and don’t have dental insurance, give us a call today to learn more about how you can save 10-60% on dental procedures with an affordable dental savings plan.