The enamel of our teeth is stronger than even our bones, it’s almost rock-like in fact. This serves us well in part, because unlike our bones which are protected by muscles, and skin, our teeth are out on display and put into direct contact with crunchy, chewy foods day in and day out. Also in contrast to our bones, our teeth cannot repair themselves. Although they are incredibly strong and damage resistant, our teeth can break, or chip.

How Does a Chipped or Broken Tooth Occur?

  1. When we use our teeth as tools – Unfortunately, people use their teeth to open objects, packages, bottles etc.
  2. Fall down – A fall can cause the jaw to snap shut harshly or to hit our jaw on some other object thereby causing the damage.
  3. Blows to the face such as from fights, sports, bicycle, or car accidents.
  4. Chewing ice or other especially tough foods could also cause chipping.
  5. Bruxism is another potential cause that is grinding and/or clenching your teeth in your sleep, or unconsciously when awake.

Reason number one is why every dentist will tell you that you should never use your teeth to open something. Even an object as harmless-seeming as plastic packaging.
Reasons number two and three are why we strongly advocate the use of mouthguards for kids when they go biking or play any sport, even if that sport isn’t considered a contact sport.
Reason number four is a little trickier, but we encourage you to avoid hard candies for your kids, and explain to your kids early on that chewing ice is harmful to their teeth before it can develop into a habit that is challenging to break.
Reason number five can be alleviated by the use of a mouth guard at night. For more information about mouthguards, check out our in-depth post on the topic titled, “Why Your Kids Should Use a Mouth Guard“.

Regardless of the reason, if your child chips or breaks a tooth you should call us immediately for a dental emergency appointment. We have four office locations in around Salt Lake City, and our pediatric dentists and hygienists are here to help.

What Can a Pediatric Dentist Do for a Chipped or Broken Tooth?

So, we’ve established that a broken or chipped tooth can’t repair itself, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have options. We may recommend a bonding repair method, veneers, dental crowns, or a dental filling. The options depend on the severity of the chip or break, and the location of the damaged tooth. You might think having a chipped front tooth is the worst due to the fact that it’s impossible to hide. Nevertheless, a broken or chipped molar is often incredibly painful and more serious for the reason that your molars are vital to the chewing of your food.
More Information About the Repair Options
Bonding is exceedingly common for smaller chips or breaks. The dentist roughs up the area around the damage a bit and next, molds and a bond composite over the damaged spot. This bond composite is a color similar to that of the actual tooth so as to not be obvious. This repair method can last approximately ten years. In this process of restoration, we might be able to use the piece that broke off.
Veneers are a more expensive repair option and often are chosen because of their cosmetic appeal. Veneers are a porcelain cover for the outer face of the tooth. They can be applied to the nearby teeth as well to create a blended cosmetically appealing look. This is more typical in cases when a front tooth has been chipped.
We may recommend a dental crown when the chip or break is large. A dental crown is a two-step process. We start by doing a mold and then fitting a temporary crown, this will protect the vulnerable inner part of the tooth. The mold is then sent to a lab for a long-term crown to be created. At the second appointment, we remove the temporary crown and attach and seal the lab crown, which will also match the tooth in color. It’s important to note that a temporary crown will not be as strong as the lab-created. Avoid crunchy, chewy foods in the area of that tooth if possible.

What If You Have the Piece of Tooth that Broke Off?

Remember, don’t wait to call the dentist. You should call us for an emergency appointment, immediately. If you have a piece of the tooth, here is how to take care of it until you can get in to see us:

  1. 1. Submerge the piece of tooth in a container with milk, do not rinse it first with water.
  2. Rinse your child’s mouth out with warm water.
  3. Give them an ice pack for their jaw around the area to help with the pain.
  4. Come in to see us, and don’t forget to bring the chip in the milk container.

What If the Whole Tooth Is Knocked Out?

Call us immediately for an emergency dental appointment! Do not touch the root part of the tooth, pick it up by the crown (the part that sits above the gum line) and submerge it in a container with milk.
If the tooth that was knocked out is a permanent tooth but is whole and not chipped or broken, you can, depending on your child’s emotional state, place the tooth back into the vacated socket. That should only be done if you can manage it without touching the root if it won’t upset your child, and you are sure the tooth is not broken or chipped.
The longer a permanent tooth is outside of the socket the less likely it is to re-embed into the gum. If the thought of reinserting the tooth on your own is too overwhelming, don’t feel guilty. The key is to get it submerged quickly into milk so that it doesn’t have the chance to dry out before you can get in to the dentist’s office and we’ll take care of the rest.

Reminder of Caution

If your child has already chipped or broken a tooth once, no matter how skilled the restoration work is, that tooth is at a higher risk of chipping or breaking again. Take extra care to utilize mouth guards at night in case of bruxism, and during sports activities. Moreover, please, please, please, don’t crunch ice or use teeth to open packages, bottles, etc.