Why did a piece of my tooth break off?
If a piece of your tooth breaks off, you might notice that the tooth is sensitive, painful, or swollen, but a broken or fractured tooth could also have no symptoms at all. The teeth can crack or fracture because of chronic tooth grinding or clenching, trauma, or simply due to age, and dentists can treat dental fractures and cracks with a number of different types of treatments, each of which will depend on the cause, location, and severity of the fracture.
Dental fractures are most prevalent on the front teeth of the top row, and on the teeth toward the back of the lower jaw. In most cases, a dental fracture affects only a single tooth, though in cases of significant trauma or injury, more teeth may be fractures. Additionally, people with dental cavities are more prone to dental fracture, even when the injury or impact isn’t as severe. The most common causes of dental fractures include behavioral or habitual factors, like chewing on ice or other hard objects or chronically grinding or clenching the teeth. Age is also a significant contributing factor for dental fractures that could cause a piece of the tooth to break off; many dental cracks and breaks occur after the age of 50. People with large dental fillings, multiple fillings, or root canals are more prone to dental fracture, as the amount of healthy, sturdy tooth material is less ample and the tooth is therefore more fragile. Of course, trauma to the face, which could commonly occur in bicycle mishaps, sports injuries, car accidents, and in cases of physical violence, is an unfortunate cause of dental fracture as well.
When a piece of someone’s tooth breaks off, that person has a condition called, appropriately, cracked tooth syndrome. When this causes symptoms, the symptoms could include pain, particularly pain that appears while chewing and then diminishes; sensitivity to temperature changes or excessively sweet food or drinks; a toothache that may come and go; and visible swelling around the tooth. In some cases, it’s clear that a piece of the tooth has broken off, but in others, it’s harder to tell, so if you suspect that your tooth is fractured, or if a piece actually breaks off and falls out, see your dentist right away. Prompt treatment increases the likelihood of a positive outcome.
The dentist will diagnose your dental fracture by reviewing your symptoms and discussing possible causes of your cracked tooth syndrome. They will then perform a dental examination to see whether the tooth has broken or whether it’s been forced from the jaw, and they will determine which layers of the tooth have been affected and in what way. A visual examination can locate crack lines or fissures and can determine whether vertical fractures are present by checking for gum inflammation, and the dentist will also use techniques like staining or transillumination to pinpoint the location of the possible fracture. The dentist will assess your pain levels while biting and under applied pressure and will take x-rays and other images to determine whether the bone has been damaged or compromised as well. If your tooth fracture is severe, you may be referred to an endodontist, a dental specialist who treats issues with the dental pulp and roots of the teeth. If your tooth fracture is more mild and the effects are largely cosmetic, your dentist may recommend a dental veneer or bonding treatment. Either way, the only way to treat a fractured tooth is to start by seeing your dentist if you suspect that a piece of your tooth has broken off.