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Happy elderly couple

Question: “I have a couple of teeth that have been sensitive to hot, cold, and pressure for several months. It’s not terrible, but my dentist said that it might be cracked tooth syndrome. What is that, and what should I do about it?”

Answer: “Cracked tooth syndrome” is a very common condition for many adults. Teeth withstand tremendous forces every day from chewing. Additionally, many people clench or grind their teeth, which can create even more pressure on the teeth. This heavy pressure can lead to cracks within teeth.

Happy elderly couple

Sometimes these cracks are superficial and are of minor concern, some cracks are internal and can’t be seen until a filling has been removed, and some cracks are deeper and can cause sensitivity or pain. On the other hand, some serious cracks may not elicit any symptoms. Often cracks will occur around fillings, especially large, old fillings. These cracks are more likely to cause part of the tooth to break away.

The most common symptoms associated with “cracked tooth syndrome” are pressure and temperature sensitivity. This type of sensitivity may be slight or intense, and it may occur constantly or sporadically. Symptoms may be persistent, or they may disappear for months at a time before flaring up again. Interestingly, the symptoms will often go away after the cracked portion of the tooth breaks away.

There are several possible consequences of cracked teeth. The tooth can split vertically into the root area, which can necessitate extraction (tooth removal) or root canal therapy. Another possibility is the need for a new filling, inlay, or crown. The nature of the needed restoration is largely dependent upon the depth and location of the crack, the size of the existing filling (if any), and the forces being applied to the tooth (or teeth) in question.

Even cracked teeth that are asymptomatic (symptom-free) will often require treatment in order to prevent a major problem from occurring. To prevent the tooth from breaking and to seal out bacteria that could cause infection, a restoration that covers the entire tooth (usually a crown or only) is used for added strength.

I would encourage you to follow your dentist’s recommendations regarding how to proceed from here.

Dr. Jim Arnold is a practicing dentist in Chesterton and Valparaiso. He is also a clinical mentor with the Hornbrook Group and serves on the Advisory Board for the Academy of Comprehensive Esthetics as the Fellowship Chairman. You may send questions to his office at 1830 South 11th Street, Chesterton, IN 46304, or email them to drarnold@SmilesByArnold.com. More information on this or any other dental topics can be found at www.SmilesByArnold.com.

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