Having a broken tooth can be very painful and distressing. A cracked or broken tooth is a dental emergency that requires prompt attention. However, you may be wondering how long you can safely leave a broken tooth in your mouth before seeking treatment. Here is an overview of how long a broken tooth can stay in your mouth and when you need emergency dental care.
What happens when you break a tooth?
When you break or crack a tooth, the inner soft tissue (pulp) may become exposed. The pulp contains blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissue that are highly sensitive. Exposure of the pulp to air, food, or drink can cause severe pain. It also leaves the pulp vulnerable to infection.
Other complications that can occur with a broken tooth include:
- Tooth fracture – Cracks can deepen over time, leading to a split tooth or lost tooth fragment.
- Abscess – Bacteria can invade the tooth pulp and cause a dental abscess, resulting in swelling, pus, and bone loss.
- Tooth loss – If left untreated, the damaged tooth may need to be extracted.
Leaving a broken tooth unchecked allows these problems to progress. So the sooner you receive emergency dental care, the better.
Factors that determine how long a broken tooth can stay in your mouth
There are a few key factors that determine how long a broken tooth can safely remain in your mouth before treatment:
1. Extent of damage
The more severe the fracture, the more urgent the need for dental care. A minor crack or chip may only require a restoration like a crown or filling. But a deeply fractured tooth with pulp exposure needs a root canal or extraction to prevent infection.
2. Presence of symptoms
If the broken tooth is causing severe pain, sensitivity, or swelling, you need emergency dental treatment right away. Mild or occasional discomfort allows more time to seek care.
3. Location of the break
Fractures on front teeth or biting surfaces tend to require urgent treatment. These areas sustain heavy wear and are more prone to additional cracking. Breaks on back teeth with no pulp exposure may have a lower risk of complications.
4. Your dental history
Those with conditions like bruxism, gum disease, cavities, or previous dental work may be at higher risk if they have a broken tooth. For these individuals, quicker treatment is recommended.
How long can you leave a broken tooth?
Generally, it is recommended to seek emergency dental treatment within:
- 24 hours for a mildly cracked, chipped, or fractured tooth with no pulp exposure.
- 6-8 hours for a severely broken tooth with pulp exposure.
- 2 hours or less if you are experiencing intense pain, swelling, bleeding, or other worrisome symptoms along with the tooth fracture.
Leaving a severely broken tooth longer than 6-8 hours greatly increases the risk of a painful tooth infection. Seek same-day or emergency dental care if at all possible in these situations.
Emergency treatment for a broken tooth
The emergency dental treatments used for a broken tooth include:
Bonding can repair minor cracks and chips. The dentist applies a composite resin material to fill in the break and hardens it with a blue curing light.
A dental crown covers and protects the entire tooth. It is used for broken teeth with more extensive damage or large portions missing.
If the tooth pulp is infected or inflamed, a root canal removes the damaged pulp and seals the inner tooth. A crown is then placed.
If the tooth cannot be saved due to severe fracture or decay, tooth extraction may be necessary. You can replace the missing tooth with an implant or bridge.
Proper broken tooth care at home
Until you can have the tooth repaired, you can minimize complications and discomfort with these tips:
- Rinse the area gently with warm salt water.
- Take over-the-counter pain relievers.
- Avoid chewing on the affected side.
- Eat soft foods.
- See your dentist immediately if pain worsens or spreads.
Temporarily sealing the exposed area with dental wax, resin, or cement can provide relief until you receive dental treatment.
Prevention of broken teeth
You can reduce your risk of cracked, fractured, and broken teeth by:
- Wearing a mouthguard during sports.
- Avoiding hard foods, chewing ice, and other behaviors that put pressure on teeth.
- Treating teeth grinding or clenching.
- Practicing good oral hygiene.
- Getting dental fillings and crowns to repair weakened areas.
When to see an emergency dentist immediately
In certain cases of broken or cracked teeth, you need emergency dental treatment right away. Seek emergency care for:
- Broken or knocked-out teeth.
- Deep tooth fractures down into the root.
- A tooth fracture resulting in pulp exposure.
- Severely loose teeth.
- Intense throbbing pain or pressure in the tooth.
- Swelling of the face, cheek, or gums.
- Bleeding that won’t stop.
Rapid treatment is vital in these situations to relieve pain, prevent infection, and save the tooth.
FAQs about broken teeth
How do you know if your tooth is cracked or broken?
Signs and symptoms of a cracked or broken tooth include:
- Visible cracks, fractures, chips, or missing pieces on the teeth.
- Sudden sharp pain when eating or biting down.
- Lingering tooth pain and sensitivity to temperature.
- Pain when you release your bite.
- Loose, separating, or shifting teeth.
What happens if you delay treatment of a broken tooth?
Delaying treatment of a broken tooth can lead to potentially serious dental problems such as:
- Tooth infections – Spread of bacteria into the tooth pulp.
- Abscesses – Pockets of pus caused by infections.
- Tooth loss – The fractured tooth may need extraction if decayed.
- Bone loss – Abscesses can destroy the jawbone.
- Systemic infection – Untreated infections can enter the bloodstream.
Can a dentist fix a cracked tooth?
Several restorative treatments can repair a cracked tooth, such as:
- Dental bonding – For minor cracks.
- Crowns – Full-coverage restoration for fractured teeth.
- Root canal – Removes inflamed pulp then a crown is placed.
- Extraction – For severe splits or vertical root fractures.
Early intervention gives the dentist the best chance of restoring the tooth.
What are the alternatives if you need a broken tooth extracted?
If a severely broken tooth requires extraction, your options for tooth replacement include:
- Dental implant – An artificial tooth fused to the jawbone.
- Fixed bridge – Adjacent teeth support an artificial tooth.
- Removable partial denture – Replaces missing teeth with a detachable appliance.
- No replacement – Leave a gap if it won’t affect oral health.
Discuss the best tooth replacement option for your situation with your dentist.
A broken tooth is a serious condition requiring emergency dental care within 24 hours or less. Quick treatment helps relieve pain, prevent infection in the tooth pulp, and save the natural tooth. If left too long, complications like abscesses or tooth loss can occur. Seek immediate help if your tooth is knocked out, has deep cracks, is loose, or causes severe pain. With prompt care, many broken teeth can be restored.