We think it is pretty safe to say that the stress of 2020 has spilled over into 2021. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic continues to affect our culture, our economy, and our everyday lives. Social and political division has caused newsworthy conflicts all over the country. And now, an unprecedented winter storm has left millions in our metroplex without the basic necessities of power and water. Stress can manifest itself physically in the human body in various ways. The manifestation we, as dental professionals, most commonly see is teeth clenching and/or grinding, also called bruxism.
Why are Cracked Teeth a Serious Problem?
Cracked teeth are unpredictable and difficult to diagnose. A crack that develops in a tooth can often cause symptoms before there is any visible problem. In general, the type of cracks caused by heavy clenching or grinding will not show up on dental x-rays until they are extremely large with a hopeless prognosis for repair.
There is no way for your dentist to predict the extent of a crack in a tooth. We can make guesses based on your symptoms and the results from some diagnostic tests. But since the cracks can progress unpredictably, we do not know if they are superficial or deep onto the root of the tooth. As a crack deepens further and further into a tooth, eventually it allows bacteria into the internal nerve chamber of the tooth. An infected nerve requires a root canal treatment in order to keep the tooth in the mouth. However, even a root canal treatment cannot fix a crack that extends onto the root. A root fracture is a constant source of bacterial contamination into the tooth, so even the best root canal treatment will eventually fail because it contracts a new infection.
How Can I Tell if I Have a Cracked Tooth?
Cracked teeth can cause a wide variety of symptoms. Some people experience sharp shooting pains in a single tooth, while others may notice a dull ache along multiple teeth. There are a few symptoms typically associated with cracked teeth that you may notice.
- Sensitivity to cold on one specific tooth that you can pinpoint
- Pain on chewing that you can pinpoint to a specific tooth
- A sharp pain when you release your teeth after biting them together
How Can I Tell if I’m Clenching or Grinding?
People who clench or grind their teeth during sleep (or during the day) have a high risk for cracking teeth. Many people are unaware of clenching or grinding habits. Some of the symptoms you may notice from bruxism are:
- Headaches in the temple and forehead regions
- Pain or tightness in the jaw and cheek muscles when you wake
- Generalized achiness of all of your teeth
- Ear pain or ringing in the ears
- Hypersensitivity of all of your teeth to cold temperatures
- Flattening or shortening of the biting edges of the teeth
If you make a habit of investigating the inside of your mouth, you might also notice a white callous line forming on the inside of your cheeks or a wavy shape to the sides of your tongue (sometimes called “pie crust tongue”). These are temporary signs of clenching or grinding that will go away when you stop or protect against the habit.
What Can I Do to Prevent Cracked Teeth?
Preventing cracked teeth is possible by removing the heavy forces of clenching or grinding on your teeth. We can do this during the day by practicing awareness of your teeth and jaws and consciously breaking the habit. Set up checkpoints throughout the day, and ask yourself, “Are my teeth touching?” If they are, swallow and place your tongue gently between your teeth. In a natural resting position, the teeth should not be biting together.
Unfortunately, we cannot take those same measures to fight clenching or grinding during sleep because . . . well . . . you’re asleep. And we cannot truly stop the clenching or grinding. The goal of any nighttime therapy is to prevent the damage from clenching or grinding by covering and protecting the teeth.
The best defense against cracked teeth from clenching or grinding is a custom-fitted nightguard made by your dentist. Many people opt for inexpensive over-the-counter mouthpieces that are bulky and uncomfortable. These moldable forms also tend to increase the force of grinding by stimulating muscle activity (in the same way that a stress ball is squishy and makes you want to squeeze it). A professional nightguard is hard acrylic, providing long-lasting protection with a minimal and comfortable fit over the teeth because it is made from an exact replica of your teeth. One-size-fits-all is not a good idea when it comes to mouthguards.
More Questions about Cracked Teeth?
Call Prosper Family Dentistry at 972-347-1145 to schedule a visit with Dr. Jill, Dr. Cara or Dr. Summer. They can answer any questions you have about cracked teeth and assess any current concerns you have.