A broken tooth is usually associated with trauma, as breaking a healthy tooth requires a great amount of force.
Most often, a tooth breaks as a result of a sporting accident (e.g. diving into a swimming pool), a motor-vehicle accident, or a “chewing” accident (e.g. accidentally biting down hard on an olive pip, a popcorn kernel or a tongue ring or stud).
Filled teeth (especially those with many fillings), as well as root-canal-treated teeth and non-vital teeth, tend to break more easily.
Only a dentist can repair a broken tooth
Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to treat a broken tooth at home – you’ll have to pay a visit to your dentist.
Depending on the degree of damage, a broken tooth can be restored with a filling, inlay, overlay, veneer or crown.
Inlays and overlays are solid, single pieces of composite, ceramic or porcelain material that are placed in or over a broken tooth (they’re therefore minimally invasive). A crown is a cap that’s placed over the entire tooth, whereas a veneer is bonded to the front surface of the tooth.
What to expect
The process of filling a tooth is usually completed under local anaesthetic during a single visit to the dentist. Instead of amalgam fillings, mercury-free filling materials (e.g. composite resins and glass-ionomer) are now used in most modern dental practices.
When inlays, overlays, veneers or crowns are used to restore a broken tooth, you’ll have to visit your dentist twice. After the first visit, the technician will construct the restoration, which will then be bonded or cemented to the tooth during your second visit.
Some dentists use machines that are similar to 3D printers to produce restorations while their patients wait. If this type of equipment is available, your tooth can be restored during a single consultation.
If the nerve is damaged, you’ll have to receive root canal treatment. During this procedure, damaged or infected pulp in the central part of the tooth is replaced with a filling.
Risks and potential complications
There are many complications associated with repairing broken teeth, and people often mistakenly believe that the restored tooth is “fixed for life”. But quite the opposite is true: like most man-made materials, the material used to restore a broken tooth has a “shelf life”.
All restorations fail eventually – some faster than others. Factors that could affect the length of time the restoration lasts include: how often you chew on hard substances, whether you bite your nails or grind your teeth, and whether you consume a considerable amount of sugar.
Caring for a restored tooth
Take good care of a restored tooth or teeth by bumping up your oral-hygiene routine:
- Brush correctly for 3 minutes at a time, twice a day.
- Use dental floss at least once a day. Ask your dentist or oral hygienist for instructions on how to use dental floss, as the technique is important.
- Use mouth rinse after every meal, especially after eating sugary snacks or foods. Ask your dentist to recommend a good rinse.
- Use a soft-brittle tooth brush. Hard bristles combined with hard brushing can damage the tooth enamel and cause gum recession.
- Consider using an electric toothbrush. Rotation oscillation toothbrushes are very effective at cleaning the teeth properly.
- Consider adding an oral irrigator (e.g. Aquaflosser) to your daily oral routine. These “flossers” use streams of pulsating water to remove plaque and food debris.
- Cut your sugar and refined carbohydrate intake.
Written by dentist Dr Lance Videtzky of City Dental Care, Cape Town. (B.D.S.) Rand. February 2019.