What is Meant by a Chipped Tooth?

A chipped tooth is a tooth where a very small piece or fragment of the tooth breaks off, especially at the edge of the tooth. You may not feel pain immediately or even notice if the tooth has been chipped if the part which has broken off is very small. There are many causes and situations where your tooth can get chipped. Crunching on a piece of hard candy or ice can result in a chipped tooth.

The enamel is the mineralized covering of the teeth and it is the most mineralized and hardest tissue of the body; however, there is a limit to its endurance and strength. Getting hit on the face or falling and landing facedown down; all can cause a chipped tooth, especially if there has already been some decay in the tooth. If, one fine day, you find a piece of your tooth in your mouth, then don't panic. There are many methods which can be used to fix a chipped tooth by the dentist.

What is Meant by a Chipped Tooth?

Why Does a Tooth Chip off?

  • Chewing on a hard candy.
  • Chewing on a piece of ice.
  • Biting on a hard food object such as a bone.
  • Falling face down and injuring your jaw.
  • Sports related injury to the face.
  • Injury to the face from accidents.
  • Decay or cavities in the tooth which makes the tooth weak and predisposes it to chipping.

Caring for a Chipped Tooth

Consult your dentist if you have had a chipped tooth or a fractured/broken tooth. If you leave the chipped tooth as it is then it can cause further damage as there is a risk of infection and you can also end up losing your tooth. These following self-care measures should be undertaken while you are at home before going to the dentist.

  • If there is pain in the chipped tooth, then you can take over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen to relieve the pain. Rinsing your mouth with salt water also helps.
  • If the edge of the chipped tooth is jagged or sharp, then use a piece of sugarless chewing gum or a wax paraffin to cover it so that the sharp chipped edge of the tooth does not cut the inside of your cheek, lip or tongue.
  • If you need to eat, then eat soft foods and do not bite down on the chipped tooth.
  • Treatment for a chipped tooth depends on the severity of the damage. If a small piece of enamel has been broken or chipped off then it can be fixed with one sitting in the dentist's office. If the damage is more, then the procedure needed will be more lengthy and costly.

How to Fix a Chipped Tooth?

Given below are some of the methods through which a chipped tooth or a broken tooth can be fixed.

Dental Bonding or Filling to Fix a Chipped Tooth

If only a small piece of tooth enamel has been chipped off, then the dentist can fix it using a filling. If the front tooth has been chipped and is visible when you talk or smile, then a procedure known as bonding is done where tooth-colored composite resin is used.

Bonding is a simple procedure and does not usually require local anesthesia. The first step in bonding of the chipped tooth is etching the surface of the tooth with a gel or liquid to roughen it so that the bonding material can adhere better. Then an adhesive material is applied to the tooth followed by a tooth colored resin. The dentist then shapes the bonding material to that of a natural tooth. Finally, ultraviolet light is used on the tooth to harden the bonding material.

Dental Crown or Cap to Fix a Chipped Tooth

If there is breakage of a large piece of tooth and if there is decay in the tooth, then dentist will file away some part of the remaining tooth and use a crown, which is a tooth-shaped cap to cover and protect the tooth. This will also improve the tooth's appearance. Different types of materials can be used to make permanent crowns, such as metal, all-ceramic, all-resin or porcelain fused to metal. Each type of crown has its benefits. Crowns, which are all-metal are the strongest ones. Resin and porcelain crowns resemble the closest to the original tooth in appearance.

If the complete top of the tooth has been chipped off or broken with an intact root, then root canal therapy is performed by an endodontist (dentist specializing in root canals) where a post or a pin is placed in the canal and sufficient structure is built onto which a crown is placed using cement over the pin to hold it in its place. It takes about two visits to the dentist's office to get a crown placed. X-rays are taken in the first visit to check the surrounding bone and the roots of the tooth. After excluding any other problems, the dentist then proceeds by numbing the tooth and the surrounding gum area. After this, the dentist removes sufficient part of tooth so as to make room for the crown. If a large part of the tooth has been chipped, then filling material is used to build up the tooth so that it can hold the crown. After this, the dentist takes impression of the chipped tooth and the opposing tooth using a putty-like material and sends these impressions to the lab so the crowns of the right size can be made. Meanwhile, the dentist places a temporary crown which is made up of thin metal or acrylic. At the second visit to the dentist's office, the temporary crown is removed and fit of the permanent one is checked before cementing it permanently in place.

Dental Veneers to Fix a Chipped Tooth

A dental veneer is a very thin casing of tooth-colored resin or porcelain composite material. A veneer covers the entire front of the tooth. It has a thicker section which replaces the broken part of the tooth. If the front tooth has been chipped, then dental veneer can be used to make its appearance whole and healthy again.

For preparing the tooth before placing the veneer, the dentist removes about 0.3 to 1.2 mm of enamel from the surface of the tooth. Then the impression of the tooth is taken and sent to a dental lab to make the veneer. After the veneer is ready, the dentist first etches the surface of the tooth with a gel or liquid to roughen it. Special cement is then applied to the veneer and the veneer is placed on the prepared tooth. After the veneer has been placed in proper position, a special light is used to activate the chemicals in the cement so that it hardens quickly.

Root Canal Therapy to Fix a Chipped Tooth

If the tooth chip is large and the pulp of the tooth gets exposed, then there is a risk of infection of the pulp. If the tooth changes color, is painful or is sensitive to heat, then it is an indication that the tooth is decayed or damaged. Death of pulp tissue can occur and if it is not removed then the tooth can become infected. In root canal therapy, the dead pulp is removed and the root canal is cleaned before it is sealed.

The root canal therapy can be done by an endodontist who is a dentist specializing in root canals or can be done by general dentists. There can be some pain experienced during a root canal therapy. After the root canal therapy is done, a crown is used to cover the remaining tooth to protect the weakened tooth.

Post Treatment Care of a Chipped Tooth

It is important to follow good oral hygiene consisting of brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing and using mouthwash regularly irrespective of a tooth being chipped or not. After the chipped tooth has been fixed, care should be taken not to bite too hard using the now fixed chipped tooth. Depending on the amount of the tooth chipped and the treatment done to fix it, your dentist will give you appropriate after care instructions and follow up appointments which you need to adhere to.

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Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD, FFARCSI

Last Modified On: August 23, 2017

Pain Assist Inc.

Pramod Kerkar
  Note: Information provided is not a substitute for physician, hospital or any form of medical care. Examination and Investigation is necessary for correct diagnosis.

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