It happens far too often. You’re crunching something hard or, if you have a cavity or a tooth weakened by decay, maybe not even especially hard. All of a sudden there’s a crunch that doesn’t feel like the food you’ve been eating. In some cases, it can be caused by chewing or biting non-food items. In others, it’s caused by a blow to the face from a fall or playing sports. Either way, the result is the same, a piece of tooth has broken off. Anytime there is trauma to the head, neck or face, immediate medical attention is recommended, especially if the trauma is accompanied by dizziness, headache, disorientation or trouble with memory or other signs of concussion.
Fixing chipped teeth can be costly and time-consuming, while preventing them costs little or nothing in terms of either money or time. Some ways to protect your teeth against chips or cracks include:
- Use a custom mouth guard made by a dentist when playing contact sports.
- If you tend to grind your teeth, use a bruxism guard at night to protect against excessive wear or stress fractures.
- Limit hard or sticky candies.
- Avoid chewing on pens, pencils and other non-food items.
- Don’t open things or loosen knots with your teeth.
- Practice good oral hygiene to keep teeth as healthy as they can be.
Even with these precautions, chipped teeth are fairly common. When a chipped tooth occurs without trauma, it is usually okay to wait until you can schedule an appointment with a dentist. While you wait, here are some things you can do to manage pain and prevent further damage:
- Cold packs or ice, either inside the mouth or on the lips or cheek can reduce swelling
- If the broken tooth causes you pain, try an over the counter pain reliever such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
- A saline rinse made by mixing warm water and table salt can both reduce pain and kill bacteria.
- If sharp edges are bothersome, you can use a bit of paraffin wax or sugarless gum over them from cutting cheek or tongue.
- Minimize chewing by eating mostly soft foods or liquids such as smoothies, yogurt, and other foods that don’t require a lot of chewing.
When you get to the dentist, there are several ways of treating a broken tooth, depending on the severity of the damage and the kind of chip. A very small chip can be handled easily in one visit. More serious breaks will require more visits and will be more expensive and possibly more invasive. Treatments range from enamel shaping to dental crowns.