Broken teeth are a common dental issue typically caused by tooth decay, facial trauma, large or multiple tooth fillings, or tooth grinding.
A broken tooth is usually considered a dental emergency and must be treated immediately because it can lead to several serious dental problems if left untreated.
Infection or Sepsis
If the tooth breaks below the gum line or exposes the pulp chamber, bacteria can infect the pulp, which contains the nerves and blood vessels. When the tooth’s inner layer becomes infected, this can prevent blood flow to the tooth, causing severe pain and potentially leading to tooth loss.
If left untreated or as a result of severe trauma, a broken tooth can lead to pulp necrosis. When the pulp is degraded, the tooth cannot receive blood flow and nutrients, damaging the periodontal membranes, causing the tooth to loosen in the socket and potentially fall out.
An injury to the tooth can lead to bone resorption, a process of bone loss that can weaken or degrade the tooth. A degraded tooth due to bone resorption can alter the natural spacing of the teeth and lead to misalignment.
Ludwig’s angina is a rare infection of the floor of the mouth that bacteria around a broken tooth can cause. The bacteria can spread to the throat, leading to potentially life-threatening breathing problems.
A broken tooth can lead to a tooth abscess, a pocket of infected fluid on or around the tooth. These pockets can develop at the top of the root, referred to as a periapical abscess, or in the gum beside the tooth, referred to as a periodontal abscess. Tooth abscesses are dangerous and can lead to tooth loss if not treated promptly.
Crown discoloration signifies that the pulp inside the tooth has been damaged. If the crown has a gray hue, you may be suffering from pulp necrosis and require a root canal or extraction. A red hue indicates tissue resorption, and a yellow tooth is a sign of dentin exposure.
Signs of an Infected Broken Tooth
Infection is one of the most serious complications caused by a broken tooth. So, it is crucial to be able to identify the signs of an infection, including:
- Severe tooth pain that radiates throughout the head and neck area and makes it difficult to speak, eat, or sleep.
- Fever over 100°F.
- Swelling around the cheeks and neck due to inflamed lymph nodes.
- Halitosis is caused by bacterial build-up due to infection. Bacteria emit sulfur compounds as a metabolic byproduct, which have a foul odor.
Treating Broken Teeth
Fortunately, there are a variety of methods that can be used to treat a broken tooth. These range from relatively minor procedures, such as bonding, to more invasive tooth-saving measures, like a root canal.
- Bonding. This minor and non-invasive procedure repairs smaller breaks (such as chips) in the tooth by applying tooth-colored composite resin to restore your smile.
- Dental crown. For this procedure, your dentist removes all broken parts of the tooth. Your dentist then makes an impression of the tooth to ensure a custom fit. The crown is fabricated off-site and then cemented onto the prepared tooth, restoring your chewing ability and the appearance of your smile.
- Filling. A composite resin filling can be inserted into the break in the tooth and repair its functionality and aesthetic appearance.
- Root canal therapy. A root canal treatment will be performed if the break in the tooth reaches the gum line. This procedure removes infected tissue, disinfects the pulp chamber, and seals it with gutta-percha and a dental filling. Your dentist may also cap the tooth with a crown to improve the tooth’s structural integrity.