Chipped Tooth

A chipped tooth happens when a fragment of your tooth’s outer protective layer (enamel) breaks off. Trauma to your mouth or biting something hard are both potential causes. Depending on how serious the chip is, you may need dental work to repair your tooth and protect it from further damage. You may need a cosmetic procedure to restore your smile.


What is a chipped tooth?

Having a chipped tooth means a fragment of your tooth enamel has broken off. Tooth enamel is the tough outer layer of your teeth that protects the sensitive tissue inside. Tooth enamel is sturdy, but it’s not indestructible. Injuries to your tooth — from a fall to accidentally biting down on your fork — can cause the enamel to break off, leaving you with a chip.

Slightly chipped teeth don’t usually cause major issues, but they can make you self-conscious about how your teeth look. Severe chips that expose the delicate tissue beneath the enamel require dental work to protect your tooth.

Either way, you’ll need to see a dental provider, like a dentist or an endodontist, to check the damage.

What is the difference between a chipped tooth and a cracked tooth?

Chipped and cracked teeth are both common reasons why people visit the dentist. With a chip, some enamel breaks off. A cracked, or fractured, tooth involves a break that runs through your tooth. Both conditions may be harmless or serious enough to require dental work. You’ll need to see a dental provider to know for sure.


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

Symptoms and Causes

What are the symptoms of a chipped tooth?

Often, the only sign of a chipped tooth is a missing tooth fragment. If your front tooth is chipped, you’ll likely be able to tell when you look in the mirror. You may feel a rough, jagged edge where the chip is if you run your tongue along your teeth.

Losing a tooth fragment big enough to expose the nerve inside can cause tooth pain. Your teeth may feel sensitive when you’re chewing or consuming foods or drinks that are especially hot or cold.

What causes a chipped tooth?

Causes include:

  • Injuries. Blows to your face or jaw — including falls, accidents and sports injuries — can cause parts of your enamel to break off.
  • Chewing or biting on hard foods or objects. Biting down on hard foods, like an apple or hard candy, or chewing on ice can cause a tooth to chip. Nail biting can also lead to chipping.
  • Using your teeth to tear open packages. Most of us have used our teeth at some point to open stubborn packaging fast. But using your teeth as makeshift scissors can lead to chips and breaks.
  • Teeth grinding (bruxism). Grinding your teeth can stress your teeth, causing them to crack or chip.

Risk factors

Anything that puts you at risk of injury to your mouth (like playing a contact sport) increases the chances of a chipped tooth. But sometimes, fragments break off for no apparent reason. You may be biting into something moderately soft and still chip your tooth.

When this happens, it’s likely because your enamel was already worn down and prone to injury. Things that make your teeth more vulnerable to injury include:

  • Tooth decay. Cavities make your teeth more susceptible to injury.
  • Eating lots of sugary or acidic foods. These foods wear down enamel over time, making them more likely to chip or crack.
  • GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). Acid reflux causes stomach acid to backwash into your mouth. If acid reflux is long-lasting (as with GERD), the acid can break down your enamel over time.
  • Previous dental work. Major dental work preserves your teeth — but it doesn’t make them as strong as they were before. You’re still more susceptible to injury. Having a large filling increases your risk, too.
  • History of grinding your teeth. Grinding your teeth for a long time can thin the tooth structure. This makes the sudden appearance of a chip more likely.
  • Age. Teeth weaken over time. You’re more likely to chip your teeth if you’re over age 50.


What are the complications of a chipped tooth?

Minor chips don’t usually cause problems. But a major chip that exposes the sensitive tissue inside to bacteria can cause a tooth infection. Seeing a healthcare provider sooner rather than later can prevent this from happening.

Diagnosis and Tests

How is a chipped tooth diagnosed?

Your dental provider will inspect your teeth to check for chips or cracks. Depending on how severe the damage is, you may need dental X-rays.


Management and Treatment

How is a chipped tooth treated?

Treatment options range from no treatment (for small chips) to major dental work to prevent further damage to your teeth (restorative dentistry). Your dental provider may also recommend repairs to improve the appearance of a chipped tooth (cosmetic dentistry).

Methods include:

  • Polishing: For small chips, your provider may be able to polish and smooth the chip so that it blends in with your surrounding teeth.
  • Bonding: Bonding uses a composite resin material to fill in the chip, so your tooth matches your other teeth. It can improve the appearance of minor chips.
  • Veneers: Veneers are coverings that can hide imperfections in your front teeth. You may need veneers if you have a minor chip that needs more extensive covering than you can get with bonding.
  • Crowns: Crowns are tooth-shaped caps that protect a tooth that’s weak or has experienced major damage. You may need a crown if you lose a large tooth fragment. Crowns help protect your teeth, and they improve their appearance, too.
  • Fillings: Fillings use materials like metals, plastic or glass to fill in missing parts of your tooth. You may need one if you have a chip in your back teeth.
  • Root canal: Root canals treat infections in the inner part of your tooth. You may need this procedure if a chip is serious enough to expose nerves inside your tooth. Afterward, you may need a crown to protect the repaired area from further damage.


Can you prevent a chipped tooth?

You can’t always keep from chipping a tooth. But you can take steps to make your teeth less susceptible to injury. You can:

  • Wear a mouth guard during contact sports.
  • Wear a nightguard if you grind your teeth.
  • Avoid sugary and acidic foods and drinks.
  • Brush, floss and see a dentist regularly.
  • Steer clear of hard foods if you have weak teeth.
  • Use your teeth only for biting or chewing.
  • Get treatment to manage GERD if you have it.

Outlook / Prognosis

What can I expect if I have a chipped tooth?

Your provider can explain what to expect after they assess the damage to your tooth. For severe chips, you may need major dental work, like a root canal and a crown. Most chips are only cosmetic issues, though. If you’re self-conscious about your smile, treatments like bonds, veneers and fillings can help.

For minor chips, your provider may just buff the jagged edges to help your tooth blend in better with the others. Over time, your tooth may smooth out even more on its own.

Living With

How do I take care of myself if I’ve chipped a tooth?

If you’ve chipped a tooth, first things first: schedule an appointment with your dental care provider. You can’t fix a chipped tooth at home. Only a provider can assess the damage and let you know what type of treatment you might need.

But there are things you can do to care for yourself while you wait for your visit:

  • Salvage the fragment. For large chips, save the fragment (if you can) by storing it in milk. Bring it with you to your appointment, and your provider may be able to reattach it.
  • Protect the damaged area. Use dental (orthodontic) wax or wear a mouth guard to cover and protect the area from further damage. Both are available at most pharmacies. In a pinch, you can stick sugar-free gum on the chip to protect it.
  • Continue to brush and floss. It’s especially important to remove any stuck food near the chip, so it doesn’t place pressure on the damaged area.
  • Manage the pain. Use over-the-counter (OTC) medicines (like ibuprofen) and ice packs to ease pain.
  • Change how (and what) you eat. Eat soft foods only, and try to avoid using the injured tooth to bite or chew. If the pain is severe, it may be best to avoid eating solid foods with a chipped tooth until you see a provider. Schedule an appointment ASAP.

When should I see my healthcare provider?

Schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider as soon as possible after you notice the chip. A slightly chipped tooth may not be a major issue. But only a dental provider can assess how serious a chipped tooth is. Leaving a chipped tooth untreated can cause other problems if there’s damage beyond the enamel.

What questions should I ask my healthcare provider?

Questions to ask include:

  • How serious is the chip in my tooth?
  • Will my chipped tooth need treatment?
  • What types of treatment would you suggest?
  • How many visits will it take to repair the chip?
  • How can I care for my teeth so that I don’t chip them again?

A note from Cleveland Clinic

It’s hard not to panic when you injure a tooth, and then the mirror confirms the worst: a chip. But take comfort in knowing your smile doesn’t have to look uneven forever. Lots of people get cracks or chips in their teeth. Treatments are available that can protect your tooth from further injury and restore your appearance. And if your chip is minor, a simple polish may get you feeling confident about your smile again.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 04/30/2024.

Learn more about our editorial process.

Appointments 216.444.8500