Fractured Teeth and Transillumination
by The Dentist Brisbane
Shining the Light on Tooth Fractures
Teeth are strong – and by practicing good home care with regular, professional cleanings and check-ups, you’re working to keep them strong! But however diligent you may be at using these procedures, thus protecting your teeth cavities and erosion, we still can’t guarantee that accidents won’t happen. And, unfortunately, accidents can lead to fractured teeth.
Fractured teeth are the second leading cause of tooth loss in adults, with the first being periodontal or gum disease. There are several things that can cause teeth to chip, fracture or break: You may inadvertently bite down on something hard. Sports injuries, and accidents such as falling, being hit in the mouth, or being involved in traumas such as an auto accident, can break and crack teeth. Also, large cavities may lead to ‘more cavity than tooth’ and the resulting thin shell of tooth is vulnerable to cracking and breaking.
For teens and young adults, there’s also a new source of tooth fractures on the horizon – tongue and lip piercing. As this fad spreads, we’re seeing more fractures in the front teeth among its followers. One study was conducted in Israel, where as many as 20% of teens have tongue or other oral piercings. Of the pierced teens in the study, researchers found that about 15-20% of them had either fractures or budding gum disease in their front teeth! Since prevention is obviously the best cure, the study’s authors encouraged the parents of teens who are looking at getting pierced to persuade them to drop it. This may be easier said than done, but consider the hazards of tooth loss. As one author stated, ‘your kids will thank you for it later in life.’
How Will I Know If I Get a Tooth Fracture?
You’ll know if your tooth breaks severely enough to expose the sensitive inner material and nerve – it will hurt! The pain however may come and go. It can be extremely sensitive to hot or cold drinks, or being exposed to the air. The pain increases when you chew and put pressure on the tooth. You can also feel the sharp edge of the broken tooth with your tongue. If you experience any of these unfortunate events, please make an emergency appointment with your dentist to begin the correction and repair process.
Many tooth fractures, however, do not hurt – and this is where the trouble comes in. Tiny, hairline fractures that don’t enter the sensitive part of the teeth often go undetected. Over time, these fractures can form areas for bacteria to collect and begin the all-too-familiar process of producing acids that lead to tooth decay. Since any fracture is capable of going deeper, the existence of undetected fractures sets you up for a broken-tooth-waiting-to-happen. If the situation progresses to ‘more cavity than tooth’, the entire outer structure could fail. So often, these things happen at the worst possible time, too. Like the start of a long, holiday weekend. Or the first night of your honeymoon – well, we surely hope not!
The key, then, is to find and correct these little cracks before they become big ones. This is easier said than done. X-rays cant be used to detect unseen fractures like those in bones, so often they are missed. Fortunately there’s a new, non-invasive approach called transillumination. This long word literally means ‘shining the light through’, and it’s something we do with every examination at Bite Dental.
Light Helps Us Find It, So We Can Fix It
As a kid, did you ever play with a flashlight on an overnight camping trip? Remember how the light could shine through parts of your hands, or produce weird-looking shadows and effects (and a nice atmosphere for ghost stories) when angled on your face? In a sense, what you were doing was transilluminating!
The same principle holds in the dentist’s office (but without the ghost stories). A small, high-intensity light is used to illuminate the teeth, gums and other mouth parts. Any small, undetected fractures, such as the ones we’ve discussed above, can easily be seen with this technique. Once found at this early stage, very often the crack or chip can be repaired with no risk of losing the tooth. This is so much easier than waiting for your tooth to start hurting or fall apart when the risk of losing the tooth becomes very real.
Many other potential problems can be found and corrected by using this transillumination method. These include small cavities, plaque or tartar located beneath the gumline, any hemorrhaging that might occur in injured teeth, and any flaws or bubbles in cosmetic applications such as dental veneers. At Bite Dental, where we believe that ‘a stitch in time saves nine’, our examination procedures rely on the power of light to find little problems. That way, we can fix them before they get big!
Essential Things to Know About Fractured Teeth
Even though you may not realize it, a cavity in your tooth may not always be an area where the enamel was destroyed by bacteria. In some cases, these and other areas may actually be fractures. If the fracture itself is not properly addressed, then you may experience tooth sensitivity as well as many other problems. Unfortunately, this includes unnecessary tooth loss as well as an increased risk of root canals.
Can a Fracture Be Misdiagnosed?
When people think of tooth fractures, they tend to automatically think that part of the tooth will break off or be so painful that the diagnosis is obvious. As with other bones in your body, minor fractures may occur, that escape your attention. In fact, if the tooth appears fairly sound, or the fracture is not very deep, even your dentist may miss it. This is just one reason why we at Bite Dental Studious always use trans-illuminating light exams to locate any fractures that may be too small to detect by other means.
Fractures and Tooth Loss
Today, many people with oversized fillings find that the tooth itself is extremely unstable. As the fillings continue to erode the natural tooth, they will also weaken the initial fracture site. Therefore, if you have medium to large sized fillings, you should make it a point to ask for a trans-illuminating light exam in order to make sure that you are getting the right treatment for your teeth. At the very least, if an underlying fracture is discovered, your dentist will be able to stabilize the tooth as well as prevent further damage to the roots and bone.
Gum Disease and Tooth Fractures
If you have ever had a root canal, then you can well understand how fractures allow a path for bacteria to get into the pulp and roots of the tooth in question. In a similar way, when your teeth have hidden fractures, it allows a place for bacteria to lodge within them. This, in turn, makes it harder to keep your teeth clean, and will eventually lead to gum disease. When the fractures occur near the roots of your teeth, you can be rest assured that gum disease will be a constant problem. Ultimately, this may even lead to tooth extraction if bone and gum loss become severe enough.
In many cases, properly diagnosing tooth fractures can mean the difference between suffering for years on end with sensitive teeth and many other problems. If you work hard to achieve good oral health, you should not overlook having a trans-illuminating light exam on a regular basis. At Bite Dental Studios, we are proud to offer this service to all of our patients. If a mysterious toothache has plagued you, we can easily find if a fracture is causing your problems. In addition, if you are having cavities filled this simple test can also prevent you from receiving treatment that will only make your situation worse by overloading the tooth with the wrong type of filling.