Chipped teeth are very common. We abuse our teeth and injure them. Teeth suffer from blunt forces when there is trauma to the face, and they suffer slow, accumulated damage over time called microtrauma. Whether you sustained a blow to the front teeth or developed a chip over years of using your teeth as tools, chipped teeth should not be ignored.
It is true that chipped teeth come in various degrees. In general, it is safe to say that the larger the damage, the more urgent is the need to repair it. There are cases when so much of the tooth breaks off that it is completely irreparable. There are also cases when the chip is barely detectable.
The larger the chip, the more likely it is to cause symptoms like sensitivity to hot, cold or chewing. Some are even sensitive to breathing in and having air rush past the chipped area. Obviously, a chipped tooth that causes these types of symptoms needs repairing.
Teeth with minor chipping that have no symptoms aside from being able to see or feel it with the tongue may require treatment, but it is not urgent.
The reason a chipped tooth requires treatment is because it can lead to further problems in the future. Here are the potential problems a chipped tooth could cause.
This is typically the worst-case scenario with a chipped tooth, and it is more common in young children. The younger a tooth is, the closer its nerve is to the outer surface of the tooth. As we age, the nerve retreats further within the tooth. So when young children fall and chip a front tooth, they are at a higher risk of breaking off enough tooth structure to expose the internal chamber of the tooth, where the nerves and blood vessels reside.
Any exposure of the nerve allows bacterial contamination. Once bacteria reaches the internal chamber of the tooth, the only way to remove it is by removing all of the nerve and blood vessel tissue in that chamber via a root canal treatment.
This condition is very simple to diagnose; you simply look at the chipped tooth. If the nerve is exposed, you will see a small red dot or a small area of bleeding in the center of the tooth. This will usually cause a significant amount of pain, too.
When a chip causes the loss of the entire layer of enamel, exposing the core structure of the tooth, there is an increased risk for a cavity in this area. Enamel only makes up the outer coating of teeth. The majority of the tooth is composed of a softer, yellower substance called dentin. Because dentin is softer, it is more susceptible to attacks from bacteria that lead to cavities.
This is not something that happens immediately. It is simply a risk that increases over time. Dentin is not able to withstand the bacteria as well as enamel can.
In the same way, dentin is much more susceptible to the erosion caused by acids in the mouth. People who drink acidic drinks throughout the day or suffer from GERD are more prone to acid erosion, and dentin dissolves under an acidic pH much more quickly than enamel does.
As dentin erodes away, it creates a concavity in the chipped area, which is a wonderful hiding spot for dental plaque. It becomes more difficult to clean and will pick up stain more quickly than the surrounding enamel.
In even the most minor cases of chipped teeth, you are at a risk for further damage. This is because the chipped or jagged edges are more likely to chip again. As the teeth contact each other during chewing and grinding, it is possible for an opposing tooth to “catch” on a jagged edge. The edge that catches is thinner and very likely to break off under that type of force.
Unrepaired chipped teeth usually chip again at some point in the future.
The type of repair necessary to fix a chipped tooth depends on the extent of the chip. As we described above, large chips that expose the nerve will require a root canal treatment to remove the bacterial contamination from the internal chamber of the tooth. Chips that do not involve the nerve may be repaired with the following dental procedures, ordered from most extensive to least.
A crown is a dental restoration that covers the entire exposed portion of a tooth. We use crowns to build teeth back up to their original contours for both looks and function. For front teeth, we make crowns from porcelain, which closely mimics enamel and creates a very natural appearance. Crowns are necessary when there isn’t enough natural tooth structure to support a filling.
A veneer, similar to a crown, is usually made from porcelain, so it provides superior esthetic results. It only covers the visible surface of a tooth, so its purpose is more cosmetic than functional. A veneer would replace the missing area of a chipped tooth, as well as cover the rest of the visible surface to create an uninterrupted appearance.
Teeth with minor chips that have healthy remaining tooth structure can support a tooth-colored filling that bonds to the surrounding enamel and dentin. We are able to closely match and blend the filling material into the natural tooth structure. While this is the most conservative option to repair chipped teeth, it also has the highest risk of breaking, especially if whatever forces caused the initial chipping continues to occur. For example, if someone chips the front teeth because of a bad habit, like using the teeth to cut fishing line, that person would be likely to break off the repair if he continues the habit.
For tiny chips that are barely visible but may cause irritation to the tongue, it is possible to recontour the area. By using a dental handpiece to smooth and polish the area, removing any jagged or rough edges, we can create a smooth surface and reduce the risk of further chipping.
This is only an option when the resulting appearance is acceptable to the patient. If the chip, for example, is relatively large, and smoothing would require enough removal that the tooth would no longer appear symmetrical, then it is not a good option.
Call your nearest Premier Dental of Ohio location today to schedule a consultation with one of our dentists. We will assess your concern and discuss your treatment options to reduce your risk for any future damage.