Cracked Tooth (Fractured Tooth)

A cracked or fractured tooth may happen because you grind your teeth, injure a tooth or because you’re getting older. A cracked tooth may cause symptoms like pain and swelling. Your tooth may feel sensitive to changes in temperature. Your dentist has several ways to treat a cracked tooth. Treatment depends on where the crack’s location and severity.


Teeth cracks often damage your top front teeth (incisors) and lower back molars (top), causing different crack types (right)
There are different types of tooth cracks, (right) but most affect your top front teeth (incisors) and your lower back molars.

What is a cracked tooth?

A cracked tooth is when something damages your tooth and causes a small break (crack or fracture) in it. The crack may be small enough that it doesn’t affect your tooth. Other times, your tooth may break in pieces or split. A badly cracked tooth may be a dental emergency.

While you can have a crack in any of your teeth, cracks happen most often in your upper front teeth and the teeth in the back of your lower jaw (mandibular molars). Other names for a cracked tooth are cracked tooth syndrome (CTS) and fractured tooth. There are several parts to your teeth, and you can have a crack in all of those parts.

Types of cracked teeth

Your dentist will classify your tooth fracture as one of the following five categories:

  • Cracked tooth: This is a vertical crack that runs from the biting surface of your tooth up to your gum line. Sometimes, the crack extends into your gum line and root.
  • Craze lines (hairline cracks): These are small, very thin cracks on your tooth enamel. They don’t hurt.
  • Fractured cusp: You may have a fractured cusp if a crack forms around a dental filling. Fractured cusps usually aren’t very painful.
  • Split tooth: As the name implies, this is when a crack splits your tooth into two parts. A split tooth may run below your gum line.
  • Vertical root fracture: This is a crack that starts below your gum line and moves toward the surface of your tooth. This type of cracked tooth may not cause symptoms unless your tooth pulp becomes infected.

Is a cracked tooth a serious injury?

It can be. For example, a crack in your tooth opens the door for bacteria to seep into your tooth pulp and cause a tooth abscess. Left untreated, a tooth abscess may spread to your jawbone. It may also spread to your facial muscles, tendons and fat cells in your face and neck.


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Symptoms and Causes

What are the symptoms of a cracked tooth?

Cracked teeth don’t always cause symptoms. When they do, the main symptoms include:

  • Sharp pain when you bite down on a tooth.
  • Sensitivity to temperature changes or eating sweet foods.
  • Swelling around the tooth.
  • Toothache when biting or chewing.

Without treatment, a cracked tooth may lead to an infection (tooth abscess) that may cause serious health issues. Tooth abscess symptoms are:

What causes cracked teeth?

The most common causes of cracked teeth are:

  • Age: Your teeth wear down as you get older, increasing the chance you’ll crack a tooth. People age 50 and older are more likely to have tooth cracks than younger people.
  • Biting hard foods: Ice, candy and popcorn kernels can crack your teeth.
  • Dental treatments: Treatments like a large dental filling or a root canal, especially if treatment doesn’t involve receiving a dental crown, can weaken your teeth and increase the chance you’ll crack a tooth.
  • Bruxism (teeth grinding): Stress and other issues may make you grind your teeth and, over time, crack a tooth.
  • Dental trauma: You can crack a tooth if you’re hit in the mouth. That can happen if you fall, get hurt while playing sports or if you’re in a vehicle accident.


Diagnosis and Tests

How are cracked teeth diagnosed?

To diagnose a fractured tooth, a dentist will ask about your symptoms and possible causes. Next, they’ll:

  • Ask you to bite down on a stick to see if you feel pain.
  • Check your tooth for signs of cracks and other damage.
  • Examine your gums for inflammation, since vertical fractures may irritate your gums.
  • Pass a light through your tooth to illuminate the crack (transillumination).
  • Put a staining dye on your tooth to better see the tooth crack.
  • Take dental X-rays to see fractures and related issues, such as bone loss. Imaging may include a 3D scan called a cone beam CT (computed tomography) scan that can show bone loss that may be a sign of a fracture.
  • Use a periodontal probe to help find the crack. A periodontal probe is a tiny tool that measures bone loss around your tooth.

Your dentist may refer you to an endodontist (root canal specialist) for more or different treatment. An endodontist is a dental specialist who focuses on treating issues with dental pulp and roots.

Management and Treatment

How are cracked teeth treated?

Cracked tooth treatment depends on how much damage your tooth has. Common cracked tooth treatments include:

  • Dental bonding: A provider fills in cracks with tooth-colored resin.
  • Dental contouring: Your dentist may smooth out rough edges, check and adjust areas where your tooth is hitting too much, and polish your tooth.
  • Dental crown: A provider fits a porcelain or ceramic cap over the cracked tooth.
  • Dental veneers: These are custom-made shells that fit over the front of your tooth. The shells may be porcelain or plastic.
  • Root canal: A cracked tooth that goes down into your tooth pulp can lead to infection. A provider may do a root canal to remove infected pulp.
  • Tooth extraction: If a crack in your tooth does severe damage to the root and nerves, your dentist may recommend removing your tooth. They may replace your tooth with a dental bridge or dental implant.

How long does it take to fix a cracked tooth?

Repairing your broken tooth may take weeks or months depending on your treatment. Your dentist or endodontist will explain the repair process, so you know what to expect. For example:

  • Crowns: Your dentist can sometimes fit a crown in a day, but it often takes multiple appointments.
  • Extractions: Replacing the tooth with a dental implant can take months.
  • Veneers: It usually takes three to four weeks to create a veneer before a dentist can fit it to your tooth.


Will I always need treatment for a cracked tooth?

No, you may not need treatment if you have a cracked tooth that doesn’t cause infection, cause pain or extend very deep or far into your tooth, like a hairline crack. You should always talk to a dentist if you have symptoms or notice there’s a crack in one of your teeth.

Can I fix a cracked tooth at home?

No, you can’t. You should always talk to a dentist if you suspect you have a cracked tooth. But there are ways to ease your symptoms before your appointment:

  • Place an ice pack on the outside of your mouth to prevent swelling.
  • Rinse your mouth with salt water to clean your teeth.
  • Take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce pain and swelling.


Can cracked teeth be prevented?

While you may not always be able to prevent a cracked tooth, there are steps you can take to reduce the chances you’ll have one:

  • Practice proper oral hygiene: Keep your mouth clean and see a dentist regularly. Cracked teeth may not cause symptoms, but regular dental examinations will detect even the tiniest of cracks in your teeth.
  • Protect your mouth and teeth: Wear a mouth guard if you play contact sports where there’s a chance you’ll be hit in your mouth, like football, basketball or hockey. A mouth guard is also a good idea if you do activities where you’re likely to fall, like riding a bike, ice skating or gymnastics.
  • Don’t chew hard things: That includes chewing on ice, hard candy and your fingernails. And don’t use your teeth to rip off plastic tags or tough plastic wrapping.

Outlook / Prognosis

What can I expect if I have a cracked tooth?

With prompt treatment, repaired teeth can last for years and not cause any other issues. But even with treatment, tooth cracks sometimes continue to get bigger or split. This can result in tooth loss at some point.

Living With

When should I see my dentist?

Give your dentist a call if you have symptoms of a cracked tooth, like a toothache, or if your tooth hurts when you bite down on it while chewing. Early diagnosis and treatment may help you avoid more serious issues like infection.

Additional Common Questions

Can a cracked tooth heal?

No, a cracked tooth can’t heal, but treatment might save your tooth. Getting your fractured tooth repaired quickly can lessen your risk of more damage and infection.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

There are many ways to crack a tooth: crunching a popcorn kernel or peppermint stick, chomping down on crushed ice or grinding your teeth. But visiting your dentist is the only way to reduce the chance that your cracked tooth doesn’t become a serious health issue. They’ll examine your tooth for signs of damage and recommend treatment. They’ll also recommend ways for you to keep your teeth from cracking.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 04/29/2024.

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