What To Do If You Chipped or Broke Your Tooth

dentist with blue curing light

Chipped teeth are one of the most common dental emergencies that people experience. Knowing what to do when chipped tooth/teeth occur can help you minimize pain and restore your smile as quickly as possible.

Adults and children alike are prone to tooth injuries. With a chipped tooth, the damage is usually caused by something like an accidental bump to the mouth, athletic injury, falling, or an automobile accident. But it can also occur as a result of everyday wear and tear if you have an existing cavity or aging filling that needs to be replaced.

What To Do When It Happens

Knowing what to do when chipped tooth emergencies happen can reduce the extent of damage that takes place. Quick action is essential. As a result, your hasty response to a broken tooth can also limit the cost of treatments to repair it. The sooner you get it looked after, the better your options will be.

But first, you need to take a few important steps before calling the dentist. Once everything is stabilized (including any bleeding) call your dental office immediately. Chances are, they’ll work you into the schedule as soon as you can get there, usually within the next 1-2 hours. If it’s not a serious break or injury, they may not need to see you right away.

Here’s what you should know:

If It Breaks 

Chipped or broken teeth need ASAP care. First, locate the fragment. If it’s a whole tooth with the root still attached,f don’t touch the root, only handle it by the crown (the part you see when you smile.) If the fragment is larger than just a sliver, there’s a chance that your dentist can bond it back to your tooth.

Fragments of broken teeth should be kept moist at all times. The best way to store them is in a sealed container with a lid. Ensure that it’s completely covered with one of these tooth-safe liquids:

  • milk
  • saline or contact solution
  • tap water with a pinch of salt
  • saliva (if you’re up to the challenge!)

Some people will go as far as to hold the tooth inside of their cheek, to keep it coated in saliva. Although you’re at a high risk of accidentally swallowing it, this option is always available if you’re desperate and don’t have access to anything else.

DO NOT scrub your tooth clean. It’s ok to hold it under gently running tap water to rinse away visible debris, but the better option is to place it directly into a storage container. The only exception is if it’s a whole tooth that needs to be reinserted. Close the drain so that you don’t accidentally drop it into the plumbing.

For whole teeth, attempt to reinsert the tooth back into the socket but do not force it. If it won’t go, store it the same way you would a piece of chipped enamel.

Get to your dentist’s office within the next 1-2 hours. Studies show that the sooner a tooth is reattached or reinserted, the better the prognosis will be. After two hours, reattachment may not be possible.

If It’s Loose

A blow to the mouth may not break your enamel, but it could seem to loosen the tooth. Do not attempt to wiggle your teeth or feel how loose they are. Since your teeth are held in place by tiny ligaments surrounding the root (which attach to the gum and bone tissue), further wiggling could make the loose tooth worse.

Ultimately, your dentist may want to splint your tooth to its neighbor, until it stabilizes. But until you can get to the dentist’s office, avoid eating on that side of your mouth. The less pressure applied to a loose tooth, the better.

Optimistically speaking, the hope for a detached tooth is for it to stabilize within a few weeks. But your dentist will need to check it for a root fracture or something more serious, so don’t skip out on the dental appointment. Technically speaking, you’ll need to get to their office within the next few days. Over time, let your dentist know if the tooth starts to darken in color. If it does, the nerve may have died.

What To Do Until You See The Dentist

Ideally, you want to see your dentist about the chipped tooth on the same day, preferably within the hour. Depending on your situation, that might not always be an option. First things first, call your dentist to discuss what’s going on. They’ll help to put your mind at ease and rule out any possible risk factors associated with your unique case.

If there is bleeding, use a clean cloth or gauze to apply firm pressure to the area for several minutes. Severe bleeding that doesn’t subside – such as from a blow to the face or serious injury – ought to be addressed by a medical provider ASAP. In that case, head to your nearest emergency room.[1]

Ultimately, the most important thing to do is to STAY CALM. Especially if it’s your child who hurt themselves. Being calm and thinking clearly can help you prevent from making obvious mistakes with a knocked out or chipped tooth. What to do when you chip a tooth is fairly simple as long as you can keep a clear head.

1) If Broke, Put In A Tupperware. 

Place the tooth in a Tupperware or similar sealed container. The key is to keep it in a place where you won’t lose it and that you can add liquid to. Find a leak-proof, sealable package and make sure there’s enough liquid to fully submerge the broken tooth fragment. Who cares how big the container is, as long as it gets the job done!

2) What About Pain Relief? 

For facial swelling, apply a cold compress for up to 20 minutes at a time. Taking an anti-inflammatory (like ibuprofen/Motrin) can alleviate inflammation and ease discomfort. Just be sure to take the medication as directed! Once you get to the dentist’s office, they can numb your mouth and discuss the best treatment options when you’re feeling a bit more composed.

In a best-case scenario, your dentist may be able to repair your tooth on the same day. Even though you’ll probably have some tenderness and sensitivity for a few days after your injury, rapid treatment is the quickest way to get out of pain.

3) Protect Your Mouth Until You See A Dentist. 

Avoid placing any pressure onto your chipped or broken tooth. That means not chewing on that side of your mouth. If there’s an obvious jagged or sharp area, consider getting a piece of sugarless chewing gum or orthodontic wax and shaping it over your tooth to provide a temporary barrier. That way you don’t accidentally cut your mouth or cause further damage. Again, this is only temporary, as in you still need to see the dentist ASAP.

Treatment Options

The type of treatment your dentist recommends will boil down to the severity of your fracture. The size of the chipped area, how far the fracture extends down into your tooth, and the amount of pain that you’re in will be determining factors. Your dentist will need to take an X-ray to evaluate the integrity of the root and nerve, to make sure there aren’t any fractures or infections that might not be visible during an exam. At that point, your dental provider will discuss what options are available and which one is most appropriate for the level of damage that’s been done.[2]

All of that being said, here are some of the most common treatments for a chipped tooth.[3] Understanding what makes each one unique will help you feel more prepared when you finally have a chance to meet with your dentist:

     

1) Tooth Reattachment

Your dentist can use bonding material to help “glue” the piece back to your tooth.

2) Smoothing The Tooth 

If the fracture is small but irritates your lips/cheek/tongue, your dentist may just smooth it off instead of covering it.

3) Bonding 

Tooth-colored composite is shaped over the chip, to re-build the structure.

4) Porcelain Veneer

A cosmetic restoration that covers the visible, front surface of your teeth.

5) Dental Onlays 

“Three-quarter crowns” are lab made fillings that restore larger areas of tooth but are smaller than a full cap.

6) Dental Crown 

A restoration that covers your entire tooth, creating a new layer on the outside that’s resistant to wear and protects the underlying structure.

7) Root Canal Therapy (Endodontics) 

If the nerve is exposed, a root canal will prevent pain and abscessing.

8) Extraction 

Non-restorable teeth may need to be pulled. Extractions are common for emergency pain relief. Of course, you’ll need to have a tooth replacement plan in mind.

Risk Factors For Untreated Chipped Teeth

When a layer of your tooth chips off, it exposes the inside structures. If enough tooth enamel breaks, you might be able to see the nerve (pulp) tissue. Since the enamel layer protects what’s inside of your tooth, a chipped area may be prone to hypersensitivity. Even if it isn’t sensitive, that surface will be more susceptible to accelerated wear and decay. That means you’ll see signs of erosion or cavities around your chipped tooth when you might not in others.

More serious fractures that aren’t treated soon enough could put you at risk for an abscess. That means what could have been repaired with bonding or a crown may now require root canal therapy.[4] The sooner you get treatment, the better the prognosis for your smile and your wallet!

Temporary Tooth Repair Kit 

***This Doesn’t Replace Going to The Dentist***

Let’s say you’re on vacation or it’s 9PM on a Saturday night. You’re sitting down to eat a meal and you suddenly feel something crack. After you look in the mirror, you notice that the old filling your dentist wanted to replace has suddenly come loose from your tooth. And to make things worse, it seems to have broken off some of your tooth with it.

In a situation like this, it’s safe to head to the drugstore and look for a temporary tooth repair kit or “temporary filling” product. Follow the label’s instructions and cover the broken area to prevent it from getting any worse. Temporary repair kits can get you through a day or two until you can get to your dentist’s office. Don’t use them longer than that unless your dentist tells you to!

How Much Does It Cost?

Depending on the severity of your fracture and the type of treatment recommended, your dentist’s appointment may cost anywhere from $50-$3,000. If you don’t have dental insurance, ask about an in-house savings plan. The sooner you get treatment, the lower the costs will usually be.

Overcoming A Chipped Or Broken Tooth

If you chip a tooth, you need to see your dentist within 1-2 hours. Do your best to save the fragment and store it safely so that it can be reattached. Temporary pain relief can get you through the days leading up to your visit. Depending on how large the fracture is, your dentist may recommend anything from smoothing your tooth to a root canal.

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