Hairline Cracks in Teeth: How to Stop Them from Growing Worse

cracked tooth vector illustration

Healthy teeth are incredibly strong, and the enamel that protects them is the most resilient substance your body produces. Nevertheless, undue pressure or accidental trauma can still wear down or crack a tooth, and when that happens, repairing it is a time-sensitive process. As you continue to bite and chew, the crack will grow worse until you fix it. To stop a tooth crack from growing worse, Dr. James Fondriest will carefully examine the tooth to diagnose the nature and extent of the damage. Then, he’ll work with you to choose the most appropriate custom restoration.

The Nature of Tooth Damage

In addition to trauma, your tooth can become damaged for a number of reasons. Some of them include:

  • Excessive pressure from bruxism, or teeth grinding
  • Large fillings, which can compromise the strength and integrity of a tooth
  • Chewing foods that are too hard, such as nuts, ice, or hard candy
  • Sudden temperature changes, like eating something hot and then drinking cold water
  • Age (Hairline cracks in teeth are more common in people over 50.)

The nature of your tooth’s crack can help determine how you treat it and prevent it from happening again. For instance, if your tooth cracked because of an issue like bruxism, then treatment will likely involve addressing the condition so that your tooth’s restoration doesn’t become damaged, as well.

What a Tooth Crack Exposes

The main body of your tooth’s crown, called dentin, makes up the majority of your tooth’s structure. At the center of the dentin is chamber called the pulp, which contains your tooth’s nerves, blood vessels, and other vital tissues. When a tooth’s dentin is cracked or broken, the pulp may be exposed, which places your tooth at an immediate risk of internal infection. Before restoring the crack, your dentist will ensure that the restoration doesn’t trap an infection inside of your tooth by performing root canal treatment first.

Are there symptoms?

Oftentimes, there are no noticeable symptoms of a cracked tooth – especially if it’s just a hairline fracture. However, if the condition worsens, patients may develop:

  • Sensitivity to sweets, heat, or cold
  • Discomfort when biting or chewing – especially when the bite is released
  • Pain that waxes and wanes, but is not continuous
  • Swelling and inflammation around the affected tooth

Can hairline cracks in teeth worsen?

At first glance, hairline cracks in teeth seem superficial – and many of them are. However, it is possible for the condition to worsen over time. The best way to assess your risk is to schedule an appointment with Dr. Fondriest.

If you have hairline cracks in your teeth, they could develop into:

  • Fractured cusps: This type of crack generally develops around a dental filling. Because it doesn’t usually extend to the pulp of the tooth, there is little to no pain.
  • Larger cracks that extend into the gum line: Hairline cracks in teeth can progress and extend toward the gum line. Fractures that have already reached beyond the gum line may require extraction. However, timely treatment can help save the tooth.
  • Split teeth: When a fracture runs from the chewing surface all the way into the gum line, the affected tooth can often be separated into two segments. It’s unlikely that the tooth can be saved at this point, although Dr. Fondriest may be able to preserve a portion of it.

Diagnosing a Cracked Tooth

During a consultation at our Chicago practice, Dr. Fondriest can perform a number of assessments. These can help determine the cause and severity of the cracked tooth. For example, he may:

  • Review your dental history with you: If you suffer from bruxism, it’s important to know that. Teeth grinding is one of the most common causes of hairline fractures. If you habitually chew on ice or non-food objects, such as pens or pencils, be sure to mention it at your consultation.
  • Perform a visual assessment: One of the first things Dr. Fondriest will do is visually check the affected tooth. He may use a special magnifying lens to see tiny fractures.
  • Take x-rays: To better diagnose the problem, we will take x-rays. It’s important to note that x-rays do not always show cracks. However, they can reveal certain pathologies (such as infection) that can point to a fracture.
  • Use a dental dye: Special dental dye (usually dark blue or purple) can be applied to the tooth. This can help any existing fractures stand out.
  • Have you bite down on something: We may ask you to bite down on a tongue depressor and then release the bite. Oftentimes, this will cause some discomfort if a crack is present.

How can I stop a fracture from getting worse?

Because tooth cracks can range from mild to severe, treatments can range from cosmetic to complex, depending on your specific needs and preferences. Here are just a few of the treatment options available:

  • Dental bonding: Hairline cracks in teeth may be corrected with a minimally invasive cosmetic touchup, such as tooth bonding. This procedure involves the application of tooth-colored composite resin. This conceals any fractures and reinforces the tooth.
  • Porcelain veneers: If bonding isn’t an option, veneers can be placed to mask hairline fractures and improve the smile. This involves bonding custom porcelain shells to the front surfaces of the teeth.
  • Crowns: More severe damage can require that the tooth be completely restored with a lifelike dental crown, which can be placed over the tooth to hold it together and stop the crack from growing.

In some cases, a fracture may be too risky to repair. For example, if a tooth cannot be restored with some degree of predictability, Dr. Fondriest may recommend an extraction. In the event that a tooth needs to be removed, it can be replaced with a dental implant. We can discuss all treatment options with you during your appointment.

If you’ve noticed hairline cracks in your teeth

Hairline cracks in teeth can grow worse the longer you leave them untreated. To learn more about how to prevent this problem and save your tooth, schedule a consultation. To learn how to address all smile problems, call our office at 847-234-0517. In addition to the metropolitan Chicago area, we also proudly serve residents of the North Shore and Northwest suburbs.