I receive calls from patients frequently who have chipped their tooth. They are chewing on something that they shouldn’t and look in the mirror to find a chunk of their tooth is missing.
I typically get the call five minutes after this happens when the patient is in distress. Not only does their chipped tooth feel unnatural, but they are worried that pain will follow and they want to know if this constitutes an emergency.
Not all chipped teeth require emergency dental appointments. In fact, very few do. The best way to determine if your chipped tooth is an emergency is to text a photo of the tooth to the dentist. This photo is very helpful in diagnosing how severe the chip is and if emergency treatment is necessary.
Below are the three categories of chipped teeth and their severity, based on what you can see with the naked eye.
The remaining tooth structure is white
Most chipped teeth involve only the enamel of the tooth. If this is the case, the remaining tooth structure will be white, with no dark areas. When you look in the mirror, the tooth structure that is exposed should be the same color as the exterior of the tooth. This type of chip is not an emergency and pain is not typically a problem. Call your dentist during regular business hours to schedule an appointment to assess and treat the chipped tooth.
The remaining tooth structure is two colors
If the remaining tooth structure has two colors – white and darker brown or yellow – the chip is more severe. This coloration indicates that the dentin of the tooth has been fractured, as well as the enamel. Fractured dentin can result in some cold sensitivity and can be sensitive when chewing. However, this is not an emergency. It is safe to call your dentist during regular business hours and get in as soon as they can see you.
Tooth is broken in half from top to bottom
The least common scenario, and most likely to be an emergency, is a cracked tooth that has fractured through the enamel and dentin into the pulp chamber and down to the bottom of the tooth. When this happens, you will hear a crack and will not be able to put pressure on the tooth. The tooth will also be loose. This is an emergency, and you should call your dentist immediately and schedule an emergency dental appointment.
While any damage to your teeth may feel like an emergency, unless there is nerve damage or your tooth has cracked in half, most chips are not an emergency. However, if the disfigurement of the tooth causes cosmetic concerns – you have a big meeting coming up or your wedding day is approaching – most dentists can accommodate you and address this quickly. Keep in mind that an added emergency appointment fee may be incurred.
If you recently chipped your tooth and are unsure of the severity, contact our dentist office and our staff will assist you in making an appointment.