Dental injuries are incredibly common among children. Only half of children will make it to their high school graduation without having suffered a traumatic dental injury, while the rest will suffer at least one such injury, and some kids will injure multiple teeth. These injuries include chips and fractures as well as more serious injuries like split teeth. Here are four things you need to know about split teeth.
What are split teeth?
Split teeth are teeth with very severe cracks. These cracks extend all the way down through the centre of the tooth (and sometimes into the root), and they divide the tooth into two segments. The two segments can be separated.
These severe cracks affect all layers of the tooth: enamel, dentine, and pulp. The enamel is the hard, white outer layer of the tooth; the dentine is a yellow, sensitive tissue directly beneath it; and the pulp is the core of the tooth which contains the nerves and blood vessels that keep the tooth alive. When all of these layers are damaged, the tooth can not be saved intact.
How does this injury happen?
A split tooth often starts out as a more minor crack that only affects the enamel, and when the crack isn't treated, it progresses deeper into the tooth. Your child can crack their teeth in many ways. This injury can occur as a result of chewing on hard objects such as pens, pencils or ice cubes. It can also occur if your child opens a package with their teeth instead of using scissors.
Teeth can also crack during sports, particularly contact sports. Make sure that your child always wears a mouth guard while participating in sports. For some high risk sports, like hockey, they should wear a mask that protects their entire face.
Are split teeth serious?
Split teeth are a very serious dental injury because they expose the pulp of the tooth to bacteria. When the pulp comes into contact with bacteria, it may become infected. The infection causes the pulp to swell, but since the pulp is trapped by the firm dentine, it can't expand freely. As the pulp swells, it presses against the dentine, and eventually, the tissue that makes up the pulp will die.
The infection won't go away when the pulp dies, though. The infection spreads beneath the tooth and forms an abscess. Abscesses are very painful and can be life-threatening. This is why it's important to get your child treatment for their split tooth immediately.
How do dentists treat this injury?
The treatment for a split tooth depends on how serious the injury is. Splits that only affect the crown will first be treated with a root canal procedure. During this treatment, the dentist will remove your child's damaged pulp tissue and replace it with an artificial material called gutta percha. After the root canal treatment, your child will need to have a crown placed. A crown is a tooth-coloured cap that is permanently cemented on top of their existing tooth.
More severe splits can't be treated in this way. If the root is also split, the tooth will need to be extracted, as a split root doesn't provide enough support for a tooth. The extracted tooth can be replaced with a dental implant, a type of surgically-implanted artificial tooth that will be indistinguishable from your child's real teeth.
Split teeth are a very serious dental injury. If your child suffers from this injury, make sure to take them to a dentist immediately. Delaying treatment can lead to serious consequences such as abscesses. With prompt treatment, your child should be feeling better in no time.