Damaged teeth may affect your smile’s appearance, but they can also be a dental health risk. Find out more about chips and cracks.
Teeth tend to be surprisingly strong, but we also subject them to a lot of wear and tear in our everyday lives. Damage like chipped teeth and cracked teeth are common, especially if your tooth has been weakened by tooth decay or other dental health problems.
Do you need to see a dentist for a chip or crack in your tooth?
If you’ve taken a hit to your mouth or teeth, or you can see a visible crack or chip, it’s usually better to err on the side of caution and check with a dentist. Even if you’re not experiencing any pain, untreated damage may heighten your risk of problems like an infection in your tooth’s pulp (that is, the inner part of your tooth with blood vessels and nerves).
It's possible for a tooth to be cracked even if you can't see any damage from the outside. To diagnose minor or internal cracks, a dental professional might need to use an x-ray, or carry out a number of simple tests on the tooth.
Because you can’t always tell when you’ve damaged a tooth, be on the lookout for symptoms like:
- sudden tooth sensitivity, especially to hot or cold temperatures
- swelling in your gums
- dental pain, especially when you chew food or put pressure on a certain tooth.
How can teeth get damaged?
Chips and cracks happen for a variety of reasons. It may be sudden trauma, like accidentally knocking your tooth against a glass, or it might be gradual damage caused by decay or erosion.
Possible reasons for tooth damage include:
- injuries to the mouth while playing sports or in a fight
- tripping or falling over
- biting down on something hard
- clenching your jaws or grinding your teeth
- car accidents or other collisions.
Children's teeth chip easily, as they're thinner than adult teeth. Your teeth may also be at higher risk of injuries if they protrude or your jaws are misaligned.
Do chipped teeth grow back?
No, our permanent teeth don’t grow back. Enamel that’s damaged or worn away doesn’t regenerate, which it’s why it’s important to try and lower your risk of accidents and dental health problems like cavities or erosion.
Are some teeth more likely to chip or crack?
Yes. Weakened teeth are more likely to break under pressure, and teeth can be weaker for a wide variety of reasons, including genetics, age, dental issues, medication use, past dental work and lifestyle.
Your teeth may be at a higher risk of damage if:
- you have any large fillings
- erosion or decay has worn away or weakened the outer layers of your tooth
- you experience bruxism (teeth grinding)
- crookedness or jaw misalignment is causing some of your teeth to protrude
- you experience acid reflux, which may increase your risk of tooth erosion
- you’re older than 50 — research has found a higher rate of cracked teeth in this age group and older.1
What to do if you damage a tooth
If you injure or damage any of your teeth, you should make an emergency appointment to see a dentist.
If you're in pain after a dental injury, try taking over-the-counter pain relief while waiting to see a dentist. If you have a chipped tooth but there is no pain, there's still a risk of infection, or the sharp edges of the tooth could cause further injuries in your mouth, so you should still prioritise a dental appointment.
What about a chipped baby tooth?
If your child has chipped or cracked a baby tooth, you might still need to see a dentist because the damage potentially could:
- affect the tooth root or gum tissue
- cause pain or sensitivity
- create sharp or jagged edges that may irritate soft tissues in the mouth (tongue, cheeks or gums).
- affect the developing adult tooth below
Consider scheduling an appointment with your child’s dentist. The dentist may be able to provide specific advice for you to follow while you wait for the appointment.
Repairing a chipped or cracked tooth
A dentist will tell you if they can repair your tooth or if you need to consider other options like extraction. Dentists will always try to save a healthy tooth whenever possible. Depending on the type and severity of the damage, they may refer you to a specialist like an endodontist.
Possible solutions for damaged teeth include:
- a dental crown, if the tooth is healthy enough and still has enough structure
- a bonded filling for chipped teeth, if the damage hasn’t reached the inner structure of the tooth
- a root canal and crown, if the crack has reached the inner structure of the tooth
- veneers, if chips or cracks are small enough to only need a cosmetic solution.
How to lower your risk of a chipped tooth
Sometimes damage is unavoidable, but you can usually take steps to lower your risk of injury or damage.
- Kids and adults should wear a sports mouthguard while playing sports or other activities that put your teeth at risk of injury. A dentist might recommend a mouthguard to wear at night if you grind your teeth.
- If your teeth protrude because of misalignment, your dentist might recommend orthodontic treatment to correct their position.
- Proper brushing and flossing and following a healthy diet can prevent tooth decay and help to keep your teeth strong.
Questions? Speak to a professionalIf you think you may have chipped or cracked a tooth, consider making an emergency appointment with a dentist near you.
1 Kang SH Kim BS Kim Y. Cracked Teeth: Distribution, Characteristics, and Survival after Root Canal Treatment. Journal of Endodontics. 2016; 42(4): 557-562.
The purpose of this article is to promote better understanding of dental health topics. It’s not meant to replace professional advice or diagnosis. Always talk to a dentist, doctor or other qualified healthcare professional if you have a question about dental or medical conditions.