Our teeth are hard and strong, designed to be resilient against the force of normal use. Teeth can even resist most trauma. However, sometimes trauma can overcome the strength of the tooth, leading to serious damage, such as a chipped tooth or a cracked tooth.

Figuring out which you experienced is important. It affects not only what type of treatment you need, but how quickly you need to get treatment. If you experience tooth trauma, you should seek care quickly, but knowing what type of trauma you experienced can help you speak with someone at our office to get appropriate treatment.

woman with a cracked tooth after eating a meal at home

What’s the Difference?

There are many potential ways to distinguish between a chipped and a cracked tooth, but the most useful system for you is to call it a chipped tooth when a part breaks off that’s made mostly or entirely of enamel. Enamel is the white outer layer of the tooth. It’s designed to be hard, strong, and inflexible, as well as attractive.

When a tooth is cracked, the damage extends past the enamel, into the support layer, called the dentin, or the interior of the tooth, called the pulp. The part may or may not break off right away.

In this distinction, a chipped tooth is mostly a cosmetic problem–although it can make your tooth vulnerable to future problems. A cracked tooth, on the other hand, is a functional and health problem that needs attention quickly, because it could lead to serious complications now and in the immediate future. 

How to Tell the Difference

You won’t know for sure whether you cracked your tooth or merely chipped it, so it’s important to always make an appointment with a dentist after tooth trauma. However, there are a few things you can do to get a sense of how badly your tooth has been damaged. Note, too, that sometimes tooth damage occurs without any obvious trauma, especially if you clench or grind your teeth.

First, if you have the piece that came off, look at it closely. If it’s all the same color and texture, you probably just chipped your tooth. But if the piece has multiple colors and textures of materials, you have a seriously cracked tooth.

If you don’t have a piece of the tooth to inspect, you can still test the seriousness of your tooth damage. The easiest way is to suck in air over the affected tooth. If that makes it hurt, you’ve got a cracked tooth. Then, try gently biting down on the affected tooth. If that makes it hurt, you’ve got a cracked tooth.

A cracked tooth might not be sensitive immediately. The crack might be small at first but widen as you use your teeth. Monitor it for sensitivity over the next few weeks. 

Treatments for Chipped Teeth

If you have chipped your tooth, we will usually recommend cosmetic dentistry treatments that restore the appearance of your smile, such as veneers or dental bonding.

These aren’t just cosmetic repairs, though. They restore your teeth to full function and protect them against future damage. 

Treatments for Cracked Teeth

If you have cracked a tooth, it requires a more serious treatment. Often, this is a dental crown. A dental crown can hold a tooth together, replace parts that broke off or need to be removed, and provide a protective cover for the damaged tooth.

If the interior of the tooth has been compromised, it can get infected. Then we will remove the interior of the tooth with root canal therapy. The tooth can look and function normally, but it won’t get infected.

Sometimes, though, a tooth can be so badly cracked that we can’t repair it. In that case, we will recommend removing the tooth and replacing it with a dental implant. There are other replacement options, like a bridge or partial denture, but implants are the best. 

Have You Damaged a Tooth?

If you have damaged a tooth, it’s important to get it looked at. If you cracked a tooth, treat it as an emergency and try to get treatment urgently. 

If you are looking for a dentist in Columbia, SC who can assess and repair the damage to your tooth, please call (803) 781-9090 today for an appointment with Dr. Adam Hahn at Smile Columbia Dentistry.