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One minute you’re living your best Taco-Tuesday life when suddenly you realize you’re noshing on part of your tooth.
Stay calm, amigo! Even the best chompers can chip. Tooth enamel may be the hardest substance in the human body, but even that has its limits — like hitting the pavement, taking a blow to the face, or chowing on a corn tortilla.
There are temporary and permanent ways to fix a chipped tooth, like:
- patching it with a handy dandy drugstore tooth repair kit
- filling or bonding the damage
- getting a root canal and crown placement
- extracting the tooth and replacing with an implant
And not all cracks and chips require treatment. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
If you’ve chipped, cracked, or completely destroyed a tooth, you’ll want to contact your dentist ASAP. Further damage or infection could lead to tooth loss.
In the meantime, consider these steps:
- If you’re experiencing pain or sensitivity, take an acetaminophen or other over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever.
- Apply clove oil to your tooth for a natural numbing agent with anti-inflammatory properties, but avoid swallowing it.
- Rinse your mouth with salt water.
- Cover any sharp edges with a piece of sugar-free gum, paraffin wax, or ortho wax (that stuff your orthodontist gives you if you have braces).
- Stick to soft foods and avoid biting down on the damaged tooth.
Treatment for a broken tooth depends on how badly it’s damaged. Here’s what your dentist can do for the long term.
Not all cracked or chipped teeth require treatment, but they should always be evaluated by a dentist.
Damage can range from deep cracks that extend to the tooth’s root and nerves, to invisible cracks inside the tooth or hidden under the gum. Your dentist will evaluate the damage and determine the best course of treatment by:
- examining the tooth
- taking dental x-rays
- possibly performing a bite test
Fillings and bonds
If you chipped a tiny piece of tooth enamel in the back of your mouth, your dentist will likely patch it with a filling. If the chip is in the front and more noticeable, they’ll likely use a procedure called bonding, which patches the area with a tooth-colored composite resin.
Bonding is pretty simple and doesn’t require numbing.
What to expect when bonding a chipped tooth:
- The dentist will paint your tooth with a liquid gel to give it some texture that the bonding material can stick to.
- Then they’ll stick an adhesive to the tooth, followed by a tooth-colored resin.
- Next, they’ll shape the resin to look and feel like a natural tooth.
- Then they’ll use a UV light to harden and set the material.
- Lastly, they’ll trim, shape it some more, and shine up your tooth.
Et voila! Just like new.
Caps and crowns
Dental caps and crowns are as stylish as they sound and are permanent. They’re used for repairing large chips and damage caused by decay.
To protect and improve the appearance of the damaged tooth, the dentist files away part of the tooth and covers it with a crown or tooth-shaped cap.
Crowns come in a variety pack — metal, porcelain/ceramic, porcelain fused to metal and all-resin. Not surprisingly, all-metal crowns are the strongest, but porcelain and resin crowns look identical to normal teeth. You do you.
Crowns typically take two visits. First you’ll go in to take X-rays and have the roots and surrounding bone examined. If everything checks out, the dentist will numb the area and file down your tooth to make room for the crown. If you have a large chunk of tooth chipped or missing, they’ll use a filling material to build up the tooth to hold a crown.
Next, the dentist will use putty to make an impression of both the tooth receiving a crown and the opposing tooth that touches it when biting down. The dentist may attach a temporary acrylic crown while the impressions are sent to a lab to create a permanent crown.
About 2 to 3 weeks later, you’ll likely have the permanent crown glued into place.
Not to get your hopes up, but some dental offices have a digital milling machine that makes it possible to get a crown the same day without taking putty impressions. Instead you get a cool digital scan. So extra.
Speaking of extra, if a front tooth has a small crack, a dental veneer made of tooth-colored porcelain or resin composite can be made to cover the whole front tooth. The material is thicker and completely masks the broken tooth.
To do this, your dentist will remove about 0.3 to 1.2 millimeters of surface enamel. Next, they’ll make an impression of the tooth to send to a lab for creation. A week or 2 later you’ll go back in to have it attached.
Placing the veneer is a simple process that involves priming the tooth with roughening liquid and cementing the veneer to the prepped tooth. Last, the dentist will use UV light to cure the cement. Say cheese!
Root canal therapy
If a chip or crack exposes the sensitive center of the tooth that contains nerves and blood vessels, then you run the risk of infecting the “tooth pulp.”
Symptoms of pulp damage include:
- tooth pain
- change in tooth color
- sensitivity to heat and cold
If damaged pulp tissue isn’t removed, the tooth may become infected and need to be removed. Root canal therapy removes the dead pulp, cleans the root canal, and seals it back up.
A general dentist or endodontist can perform the procedure. The procedure feels like a routine cavity filling. Most of the time the remaining tooth will need to be covered with a crown to protect the weakened tooth. (It would make more sense to call it a helmet, no?)
Molars have several roots, so if the fracture breaks one root, you may need a root amputation (aka hemisection) to save the rest of the tooth. After that you’ll have a root canal and crown added to the remaining tooth.
Your endodontist may recommend surgery to remove calcium deposits from past root canals or to check for sneaky cracks hiding below the surface.
If you experience the mother of all chips and breaks, the tooth may need to be removed all together. According to a recent study, the deeper the crack, the more likely it will need to be extracted.
If you do end up extracting a tooth, your endodontist will likely suggest a dental implant that looks and works like your natural tooth.
Depending on the extent of damage, a chipped tooth could set you back anywhere from $100 to $5,000.
Here are some estimates:
- Filling: $100 to $500
- Crown: $250 to $2,000 (depending on the type of crown)
- Root canal: $500 to $2,000 (depends on severity and location)
- Veneer: $925 to $2,500 per tooth.
- Dental implant: $1500 to $5,000
Dental insurance can help, so talk to your dentist about insurance provider deets.
Don’t put off seeing a dentist for your chipped tooth. The longer you wait, the more damage can occur. And the more damage done, the more difficult (and possibly more expensive) it becomes to fix.
A chipped tooth can be quickly remedied with pain meds, covering sharp edges with wax, or temporarily patching with a pharmacy tooth kit.
Your dentist can provide a permanent fix with a filling, bonding, root canal, or extraction.
Keep calm and chew on — just on the opposite side and only on soft foods for now.