A chipped tooth usually occurs because of some sort of trauma, such as a fall or a blow to the mouth. It can also occur because of biting down on a substance that is too hard. If your tooth is decayed, a chip is more likely, but it can also happen to perfectly healthy teeth.
Unless the chipped tooth causes pain or exposes the inner layers, it is not a dental emergency. However, because of its uneven look, you may want to get it fixed as soon as possible.
How a dentist may treat a chipped tooth
There are several types of treatments available. Your dentist will recommend one based on the extent of your injury and the particulars of your case.
Bonding or filling
If the damage consists of just a small piece of tooth enamel that has chipped off, the dentist can use a filling to repair it. If it is a front tooth, the dentist can use the same composite resin material used for tooth-colored fillings to restore the tooth. The resin is applied directly to the tooth after roughening the surface with a gel and painting on adhesive material. It is then molded to the proper shape before being hardened with ultraviolet light.
This method requires no numbing, and once it is over, you can walk right out of the office. However, it is only appropriate for relatively minor damage.
If you are able to save the portion of the tooth that chipped off and see the dentist right away, it may be possible to cement the broken fragment back in place to repair the tooth. However, this is only an option if the cells of the tooth fragment are still alive. You can protect them temporarily by holding the fragment in your mouth between the cheek and gum to keep it moist or by placing it in a glass of milk so it can benefit from the calcium. However, these methods will not keep the fragment alive indefinitely, so it is imperative that you see the dentist right away.
If a large portion of the tooth has broken off or the tooth is too severely decayed for a filling, a crown may be an option to repair the damage. A crown is a prosthesis made of strong and durable materials, such as metal, resin, or porcelain. It is shaped like a tooth and is hollow in the middle so that it can fit over the remaining portion following some preparation to make it evenly shaped.
To make sure the crown fits, the dentist takes impressions of your teeth. The traditional way of doing this is to have you bite down on a putty-like material and send it to the lab once it hardens, but impressions can also be taken digitally. It usually takes a couple of weeks for the lab to craft the crown and send it back to the lab, but it may also be possible to get same-day crowns.
Root canal procedure
A root canal procedure may be needed if the chip is so large that it exposes the pulp of the tooth to the air. When this happens, the blood vessels and nerves can be infiltrated by bacteria, which can cause an infection. The procedure involves cleaning out the root of the tooth, removing the compromised pulp, and then sealing the tooth.
A tooth that has undergone a root canal procedure is weaker than the others. To strengthen it, you may need a crown as a follow-up procedure.
An onlay is like a filling that extends over a portion of the tooth’s surface. It is different from a crown in that it does not extend over the entire tooth. However, it is different from a filling, and similar to a crown, in that it has to be created in a lab before the dentist can cement it in place. The dentist may have to take an impression of your teeth to send to the lab the same as they would if you were getting a crown. However, it does not require the extensive preparation you may need for a dental crown.
A veneer may be an appropriate treatment if you have a relatively minor chip in a front tooth. Rather than repairing the chip, the veneer would cover it up so that no one could see it.
In most cases, it is possible to repair a chipped tooth. The correct course of action depends on the severity of the injury.
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