Conditions,  Q&A

Is a Cracked Tooth an Emergency?

This article is a part of our Q&A series in which we give detailed answers to our readers' questions. Have a question? Don't hesitate and send it to us to get a detailed answer!

A cracked tooth can occur for a variety of reasons, ranging from biting down on a hard piece of food to experiencing trauma from a fall or accident. Whether or not a cracked tooth is a dental emergency can depend on several factors, including the severity of the crack, its location, and the presence of pain or other symptoms. This article offers an in-depth look into when a cracked tooth should be treated as an emergency and how to manage the situation. But first things first: do not panic! Calm your nerves and learn your options, we’re here to help. Let’s begin!

Is your cracked tooth a dental emergency?

If you have a cracked tooth you quite likely need to have it checked by a dentist, but in most cases, a broken or chipped tooth is not considered a dental emergency. However, there are some exceptions to this rule of thumb, and this Q&A answer is to help you decide whether it’s an emergency or a case for a normal scheduled dental appointment. Please keep in mind that in an emergency most dentists will help you on-demand, even without scheduled appointments, and if it’s not their working hours you can still try dental offices with emergency care. When calling the dental office try to be as clear as possible to help them assess what kind of treatment you may need – if possible take a photo of the damage and text it to them or send it via e-mail.

Understanding the Types of Cracked Teeth

First, it’s essential to understand that not all cracks are the same. They vary in severity and thus, the level of urgency required for treatment:

  • Craze Lines: Superficial cracks that only affect the enamel. These are typically not a cause for concern regarding dental health.
  • Fractured Cusp: A break in the chewing surface of the tooth, usually around a filling. This may not be painful and might not require emergency treatment.
  • Cracked Tooth: A crack extending from the chewing surface vertically towards the root. In this case, immediate attention is necessary to prevent the spread of the crack.
  • Split Tooth: A tooth that has been cracked for an extended period might split into distinct segments and can be a serious issue.
  • Vertical Root Fracture: Cracks that begin in the root and extend towards the chewing surface, often not noticed until the surrounding bone and gum become infected.

Symptoms That Indicate an Emergency

Certain symptoms may indicate that a cracked tooth requires emergency care:

  • Severe Pain: Continuous intense pain suggests that the crack may have affected the inner soft tissue or nerve of the tooth.
  • Swelling in the Gums: This could be indicative of an infection that needs immediate attention.
  • Loose or Displaced Tooth Fragment: If part of the tooth is loose or has broken off, this is a dental emergency.
  • Difficulty in Chewing: If the crack is causing significant discomfort or pain when biting or chewing, this needs urgent attention.

What to Do in Case of a Cracked Tooth Emergency

If you determine that your cracked tooth is an emergency, it’s crucial to act promptly:

  • Contact Your Dentist: Call your dentist immediately. Explain the situation clearly and, if possible, provide an idea of how severe the crack seems to be.
  • Rinse Your Mouth: Use warm water to gently rinse your mouth. This can help clean the area and might alleviate some of the pain.
  • Apply a Cold Compress: Apply an ice pack or cold compress to the outside of your face to reduce swelling.
  • Take Over-The-Counter Pain Relievers: Use OTC pain relievers like ibuprofen to manage pain. Avoid placing aspirin directly on the gums as it can burn the gum tissue.
  • Avoid Chewing on The Affected Side: This can prevent further damage to the cracked tooth.

The Importance of Timely Intervention

Addressing a cracked tooth promptly is vital for several reasons:

  • Preventing Infections: Cracks can expose the inner parts of the tooth to bacteria, leading to infections that can be painful and complicated to treat.
  • Saving the Tooth: In many cases, quick intervention can be the difference between saving or losing the tooth.
  • Preventing the Spread of the Crack: A crack can spread and become more severe if not stabilized and treated.

Now Let’s Assess Your Situation With These Questions:

  1. Is your tooth still in the socket or have you lost a tooth?
    If your tooth is out of the socket (has fallen out of your mouth) this certainly is an emergency – an urgent one! Pick it up by the upper part called crown, never by the root – if possible try not to touch the root at all. Then rinse it gently under running water (but do not try to clean or scrub it manually) and store it in your own saliva, mild salt solution, or milk. For transport, you can also try to put it back into the socket or if not possible in your mouth between your cheek and gums. If the tooth is cracked you may try to secure it by putting over it one of the following things: dental wax, dental filling material, a tea bag, or even sugar-free gum. But if you’re not confident about doing it just get to a dental office ASAP – in this scenario every second counts.
  2. Are you in pain? How severe is it? Is it constant or only when biting?
    If a chipped or cracked tooth does not give you any sensations it’s likely you don’t have to rush to your dentist. On the other hand, pain is not a good sign – your tooth nerve may be damaged or there is a problem with one of your fillings. Constant pain requires over-the-counter pain relievers and scheduling dental visits within a few days. If pain is not constant you can also perform simple pulp vitality tests on your own like percussion test or thermal test.
  3. Do you have heat or cold sensitivity?
    Another not-so-good sign.
  4. Do you have loose teeth?
    A loose tooth, even if it’s without any pain, is a serious problem. On the other hand, if you lose a part of the restoration like a filling, a veneer, or a crown and it does not hurt it can probably wait for a few days.
  5. Do you have an infection or is there any swelling?
    Serious infection or an abscess in your mouth can be life-threatening so treatment should not wait. Check for symptoms of an abscess such: as swelling, bumps or knots on the gums, high fever, or swelling around the face.
  6. Are you bleeding from the mouth?
    This is a potential emergency – see the dentist as soon as possible especially if the bleeding is excessive and won’t stop without your intervention.
Some extra tips:
  • When considering pain relievers do not take aspirin, as it may increase bleeding by dilluting blood.
  • If your tooth has fallen out never let the tooth become dry – this can lead to damage.
  • To avoid these kinds of situations in the first place: wear a mouthguard when participating in contact/risky sports, avoid chewing ice and hard objects like popcorn kernels or hard candy and never use your teeth to cut or open packages or things.
  • Purchase Save-A-Tooth or a similar emergency tooth preservation kit (in advance of any accidents) and add it to your first aid kit.

Bottom Line:

If you have a cracked tooth it should be always inspected by your dentist. To decide how urgent this appointment should be you need to assess your situation by answering a series of questions listed above and decide on your own using our recommendations. While not all cracked teeth are emergencies, it’s important not to take chances with your dental health. If you’re unsure of the severity of a cracked tooth or if you’re experiencing pain or discomfort, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and seek immediate dental care.

This Q&A series article is complete and was published on October 25, 2018, and last updated on July 30, 2023.

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