Causes of Chipped or Broken Teeth
While you may wish your teeth were as strong and solid as a diamond, they’re more like a multi-layered rock. An outer layer of enamel and an underlying layer of dentin protect the ultra-sensitive tooth root and pulp. Although your enamel is typically tough and protective, the outer layer can chip or break with just the right amount of pressure.
If you are taking good care of your teeth, such as brushing and flossing twice daily and going on twice-yearly trips to your dentist’s office, you’re doing what you can to keep your teeth healthy. But even healthy teeth commonly chip or break for one of two reasons: as the result of a long-standing habit or due to a sudden injury.
Causes of Chipped or Broken Teeth: Your Bad Habits
Biting your fingernails or chewing on a pen may seem tough only on your nails or pen, but your teeth can ultimately pay the price. Over time, the biting can wear on an area of your tooth and lead to a chip due to building pressure and tooth weakness.
The same is true for a habit you may not even know you are doing — grinding your teeth at night. If you wake up with a sore jaw or teeth or your dentist notes erosion on the surface of your tooth, you could be grinding your teeth. This creates pressure that can contribute to a broken or chipped tooth. Since you typically grind your back teeth, you could have a small chip without seeing it on a daily basis. But the chip’s small size does not make it any less compromising for your dental health.
Another long-term cause of chipped or broken teeth is your fillings, particularly if you have large, older and/or silver fillings. As the fillings mature and settle into your tooth, they can take on a wedge-like effect that contributes to a broken tooth. Needing the filling in the first place can signal a point of weakness for your tooth. While the filling is aimed at strengthening your tooth, it can become weaker over time. The result can be a chip.
“Talk with your dentist to replace large silver fillings with onlays or crowns when they need replacement to protect the integrity of the tooth,” recommends James Simons, DDS, MEd, Professor of Restorative Dentistry at the University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center in Memphis, Tenn.
Causes of Chipped or Broken Teeth: Trauma
Sudden impact can lead to a chipped or broken tooth, and this is especially true when you are chewing on a piece of food, such as hard candy or a piece of ice.
“A food item doesn’t necessarily have to be hard to cause a chip,” says Joseph Payne, DDS, a dentist with a private practice in Chattanooga, Tenn. “Sometimes you can hit a tooth at the wrong angle, and it will chip easily.”
Physical accidents, such as a tumble on the playing field also can contribute to a chipped or broken tooth. Wearing a mouth guard can help to protect you on the field, but you likely won’t be wearing a mouth guard in the event of a car accident. While these injury types aren’t preventable, they are often treatable.
Time to See Your Dentist
Whatever the cause or size of your chipped or broken tooth, seeing your dentist is vital. Not all chips will be painful, and they could expose the inner portions of your teeth that your enamel protects. Your dentist is the best professional to evaluate the severity of a chipped tooth. If you are able to connect the cause back to a particular action — such as a love of eating candy apples — you may need to abstain to prevent chips.