A chipped tooth can be a cause for concern—especially if it’s one of your visible front teeth or leaves the biting surface with rough edges. The good news is that a minor chip can be easily fixed in a single visit to the dental office, and problems as serious as a broken tooth can also be fixed with various dental treatments. Cosmetic dentistry makes it easy.
What Causes a Chipped Tooth?
The biting surface of your tooth enamel can become chipped when you bite down on something hard—especially if tooth decay has already weakened the hard enamel coating on the tooth. Hard candies like peanut brittle are common culprits, but a surprise piece of grit in a soft meal can be enough to chip off a piece of enamel as well.
More severe damage such as a cracked tooth, broken tooth, or having a tooth entirely knocked out can result from falls, knocks, or a blow to the face. These situations constitute a dental emergency to reduce the risk of infection and the loss of otherwise healthy teeth. Even knocked-out teeth can often be reattached if you make it to the dentist within 30 minutes. Rinse the tooth with warm water and only touch the crown (not the roots).
Which Procedures Can Fix a Chipped Tooth?
If you’re looking to address a chipped tooth, the dentist may recommend one or more treatment options depending on the type, location, and severity of the chip. Common procedures include cosmetic bonding, porcelain crowns, porcelain veneers, and dental implants.
If only a small amount of tooth enamel on the biting surface has chipped off—known as a “cusp break”—and filing the sharp edges of the tooth would not be sufficient, cosmetic dental bonding is the easiest and quickest solution. This simple procedure is especially helpful if the damaged tooth is one of your visible front teeth.
In this procedure, the dentist may use a liquid to create a rough surface in the chip. They will then apply an adhesive material followed by tooth-colored composite resin, which they will mold to fit the shape of the tooth. Finally, ultraviolet light is applied to harden the composite material and the repaired tooth can be used immediately.
If the chip is too large to repair with cosmetic bonding, the dentist may recommend a porcelain crown as the best solution for how to fix a chipped tooth. A dental crown is a tooth-shaped cap that fits over the entire tooth, providing structural support and protecting the root from infection. While metal crowns are the strongest, porcelain crowns can be made to look like the rest of your natural teeth.
To place a dental crown, the dentist may take an X-ray or scan of your teeth to make sure the root and jaw bone is still strong. Then, they will take an impression of the base of the tooth and the opposing tooth which is sent to a lab where the crown will be made. The dentist may give you a temporary crown made of acrylic to use until the porcelain crown is ready and adhered permanently to the base of the tooth.
For a chipped front tooth that is visible, a porcelain veneer can restore a natural and healthy appearance to the tooth. A more permanent solution than composite resin for fixing a chipped tooth, a dental veneer is a thin shell that covers the front of the tooth and blends in with the surrounding teeth. After the veneer is placed, the cosmetic damage will no longer be visible and you can continue to use the tooth as normal.
To place a veneer, the cosmetic dentist will shave a thin layer of enamel off the tooth before taking a mold of the tooth to send to a lab (don’t worry, it’s an extremely thin layer and the discomfort is minimal). Once the porcelain veneer is ready, the dentist will roughen the surface of the tooth and bond the veneer to the tooth with dental cement, restoring your smile and natural appearance.
If the trauma to a tooth is severe, resulting in a deep crack, a fractured tooth, nerve damage, or tooth loss, you may be looking at a root canal or tooth extraction to prevent a bacterial infection. If the tooth is lost, it can be replaced with a dental implant that looks and functions like the original tooth. Dental implants are now one of the most common cosmetic procedures for replacing an infected tooth.
To place a dental implant, the dentist will first take an X-ray of your mouth to ensure there is enough jaw bone to support the post. Then, they will place the post, abutment, and porcelain crown in three separate dental procedures to give the tissue time to heal. If breaks in teeth come from the root rather than the biting surface, dental implants are often the best solution for preventing additional damage to your mouth.
Caring for a Chipped or Cracked Tooth
When a tooth becomes chipped, it's important to exercise care to reduce pain and prevent further damage. The most urgent care for a chipped tooth could include covering the jagged edges with some clean gauze or a piece of sugarless chewing gum so that the chipped tooth doesn't cut your tongue. It's also a good idea to eat soft foods to avoid making the chip or crack worse.
If you're struggling with pain, you could try some clove oil or over-the-counter pain medications. Rinse your mouth out with a saline solution to keep bacteria from entering the crack or the gum. As soon as you can, seek out quality dental care and receive treatment for the chip or crack. It's much easier to maintain good oral hygiene when your teeth are in top condition.
If You Have a Chipped Tooth, Options Are Available
There are several possibilities for how to fix a chipped tooth, depending on the severity, nature, and position of the chip. Small chips can often be resolved with filing and/or composite bonding. Larger chips, fractures, and cracks may require crowns, porcelain veneers, or dental implants.
For best results with treatments for a chipped tooth, see a dentist as soon as possible. Timely action produces the best results and can prevent further damage to your teeth.