Imagine you’re out bowling with friends. You strut to the lane with the ball, swing your arm back, and – smack! You’ve accidentally hit your friend in the face! Now she has a chipped front tooth. So what do you do?
How can a tooth chip?
A tooth can chip when you:
- Bite down on something hard
- Fall and hit your mouth on the ground
- Get hit in the mouth
Incisors often chip after a blow to the mouth, because of their vulnerable position at the front of the mouth. Molars are more susceptible to chipping when chewing hard foods.
What’s it like to have a chipped tooth?
You will usually quickly notice the sharp area with your tongue. A chipped tooth probably won’t hurt unless the broken piece is large.
What to do if you’ve chipped a tooth
- Phone your dentist as soon as possible to make a non-emergency appointment. A chipped tooth is only a non-emergency and may not need treatment at all. But you should still see your dentist because she will be able to file down the chipped area and check for any hidden damage.
- Bring the tooth fragment to the dentist appointment because she may be able to reattach it. In the meantime, store the fragment safely in a container and cover it with milk or saliva.
- Take an over-the-counter pain reliever if the tooth is painful.
- Rinse your mouth with salt water as a natural disinfectant.
- If your damaged tooth is now sharp and jagged, cover it with wax paraffin or sugarless gum to prevent it cutting your tongue, lips and cheeks.
- Avoid chewing hard food with the injured tooth because it may cause more of the tooth to break off.
At the dentist
The dental treatment you will require will depend on the severity of the damage.
- Minimal: The smallest chips do not require any treatment at all.
- Small: A very small chip can simply be smoothed down by your dentist and will not need to be filled.
- Medium: For a medium-sized chip, the dentist will either make a filling or reattach the original chipped piece of tooth. If the tooth is a molar, then it might require a crown (a cap that covers your tooth) if the chewing surface is damaged.
- Large: A severely broken tooth might mean an exposed nerve. In this case you will probably need a root canal to remove the damaged nerve, as well as a crown or a cap to replace the chipped tooth. This is more serious than a minor chip and you should see a dentist as soon as possible.
What if it’s more serious than a chip?
You should seek the nearest emergency dentist immediately if your tooth is cracked, badly broken or knocked out completely. You can tell when you have a cracked tooth because pain will occur when you release a bite, but not when you bite down. You should also see a dentist immediately if you think you have nerve damage, which is characterised by persistent pain.