Is It Normal to Have Small Cracks in My Teeth?

You’re brushing or flossing in front of a mirror, and all of a sudden you notice what appear to be small cracks in one or more of your teeth. You look more closely at the tiny lines breaking up your smile and begin to get more concerned. Your teeth don’t hurt, and you don’t recall doing anything to injure your mouth, so how did this happen, and what does it mean for your health?

Don’t panic. Most of these cracks are relatively minor. However, since there are more serious conditions associated with this type of dental damage, and your crack could be worse than it appears, it’s important that you see a dentist as soon as possible if you spot any sort of fracture. Houston dentist Dr. Cindy Flanagan often helps our patients with these sorts of issues. If you’ve noticed a crack in your teeth, our team would be happy to answer any questions you have about your smile and assist you in maintaining your oral health. In the following blog, we go over the basics of dental cracks and explain how you should address them.

Categories of Cracks

Not all tooth fractures are created equal. There are a variety of different types of cracks you could experience. According to a piece published in the Journal of Esthetic and Restorative Dentistry, “the American Association of Endodontists [dentists who specialize in treating the inside of the tooth] (AAE) have identified five types of cracks in teeth.” These include:

  • Craze lines, which are “visible fractures that only involve enamel.” Essentially, this means that the damage of the fissure only affects the top layer of the tooth. Often, patients who notice small cracks in their teeth have craze lines. These types of cracks are less serious because they do not penetrate into the deeper parts of the tooth.

  • Fractured cusps are cracks that “originate in the crown of the tooth [the visible part of the tooth that extends beyond the gums], extend into dentin [the harder, deeper layer of the tooth beneath the enamel], and the fracture [ends] in the cervical region [the part of the tooth closest to the gums].” These types of cracks are more serious and often occur as a result of improperly placed restorations.

  • The AAE defines a “cracked tooth…as a crack extending from the occlusal [chewing] surface of the tooth apically [to the top of the tooth] without separation of the two segments.” This is one solid line from the bottom to the top of the tooth. A cracked tooth is more serious than a craze line because of its size and placement.

  • A “split tooth is a crack that extends through [the tooth]…splitting the tooth completely into two separate segments.” This is much more than just a small crack.

  • “Vertical root fractures originate in the root [of the tooth, where the tissue is].” These may go all the way through the tooth, or not.

If you believe you have any of the above categories of cracks, it’s important that you see a dentist as soon as you can. While small cracks are most commonly craze lines, the article points out that “it is not always possible to determine that a visible fracture is limited to enamel,” so it is always worth having the tooth examined.

What Type of Crack Do You Have?

If you’re wondering what type of fracture you might have, consider the following questions (in conjunction with the types of cracks we’ve outlined above):

  • Are you experiencing discomfort when you eat or drink? The AAE notes, “when your tooth cracks from an injury or general wear and tear, you can experience a variety of symptoms ranging from erratic pain when you chew your food to sudden pain when your tooth is exposed to very hot or cold temperatures.” Even if your crack is so small that you can’t see it, you could experience these symptoms.

  • Does your crack extend all the way across your tooth? If so, it could be a cracked tooth.

  • Is the split in your tooth relatively minor and small? This might be a craze line.

  • Has the fracture broken your tooth into two separate pieces? This would be a split tooth.

  • Does the crack only appear at the part of your tooth closest to the gums, and is that tooth very sensitive? These symptoms could indicate that you have a fractured cusp.

  • Does the crack look unusually large or deep? This could be an indication that it is more serious than a craze line.

  • Do you recall an incident where your tooth might have been damaged? This may have lead to a cracked tooth, split tooth, vertical root fracture, or fractured cusp.

  • Is your tooth also broken or chipped? This could be an indication that you have a split tooth or another more serious type of crack.

These questions are simply meant to guide you in understanding more about your condition. For a full, thorough, accurate diagnosis, you’ll need to see Dr. Flanagan for an examination.

What Causes Tooth Cracks?

Now that you know more about tooth cracks, you might be wondering just why they happen. There are a few different reasons your tooth might become fractured. These include:

  • Previous dental work. Unfortunately, having a bigger dental crown or dental filling put in could interfere with your tooth structure, leading to cracks. Working with an experienced restorative dentist like Dr. Flanagan reduces this risk.

  • Bruxism, also known as tooth grinding. Clenching your teeth together puts undue pressure on them, which could lead them to crack. If you grind your teeth, Dr. Flanagan can make you a custom-fitted night guard to protect your teeth from stress.

  • Injury. If you fall on your face or head, the impact could injure your teeth, cracking them. You could also injure your teeth by using them as tools, to open soda cans, cut objects, etc., so you should avoid this.

  • Aging. Unfortunately, as you get older, your teeth become weaker, making cracks more likely. Teeth take a lot of abuse over a lifetime, and the enamel can occasionally crack from the stress of normal chewing and biting.

  • Your diet. Chomping on brittle foods could crack your teeth. This is why we advise you not to chew on ice or other hard objects.

These are just a few possible causes for cracked teeth. If you suffer from this condition, Dr. Flanagan can help you determine the source of your cracked tooth.

Treatment Options

The treatment for a cracked tooth depends on what type of fracture you experience, as well as your unique medical factors and personal preferences.

Typically, craze lines do not require any treatment, since they are only at the surface level of the tooth and do not usually affect the underlying tissue. However, many people don’t like how craze lines look. These tiny hairline fractures can pick up stains and become more visible, particularly on the front teeth. If you teeth have stained craze lines, Dr. Flanagan can use our advanced teeth whitening procedures to brighten them. If you have extensive cracks, Dr. Flanagan could also cover the front surface of your teeth with custom-made porcelain veneers, completely obscuring these cosmetic imperfections. Porcelain veneers can also give you straighter, more ideally shaped teeth.

For more severe cracks, Dr. Flanagan may need to place a restoration, perform a root canal, or even use a dental implant-supported prosthesis to replace the tooth if it has lost too much of its structure. If needed, she may refer to an appropriate specialist, as well.

Preventing Cracks

Most of us probably aren’t crazy about the idea of dealing with craze lines, or potentially even more serious fractures. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to avoid cracks. To help keep your teeth intact, Dr. Flanagan recommends that you:

  • Don’t bite down on hard foods or objects.

  • Try not to use your teeth to open or cut things.

  • Brush your teeth at least twice per day and floss daily.

  • Eat and drink sugary and acidic foods in moderation, since these can weaken your enamel, making it more prone to cracks.

  • Wear appropriate protective gear when playing sports (since facial injuries can lead to cracks).

  • If you have bruxism, wear a night guard.

  • Come to our Houston office for a cleaning and examination appointment at least every six months.

Dr. Flanagan and our team can give you more tips to avoid tooth cracks at your next visit.

Do You Have Small Cracks in Your Teeth?

We understand that these can be unsettling or embarrassing, but they don’t have to be. Dr. Flanagan and our Houston dental team are here to help! Contact us today to schedule an appointment.

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