A Covert Crack: What Is Cracked Tooth Syndrome?

Posted on: 8 March 2022

Some conditions which affect the body have names that might be confusing to anyone without medical training. Have you heard of abetalipoproteinemia (when your body can't absorb fat)? What about tropical sprue (an inflammation affecting the small intestine)? And then there are conditions with names that are entirely self-explanatory, such as cracked tooth syndrome. As you've probably guessed, this involves a crack in your tooth. The syndrome has its own classification, as it differs from the more common fractures that a tooth may experience. Unfortunately, one of these differences is that cracked tooth syndrome (CTS) can be quite difficult to diagnose.

Practically Invisible

Although the tooth has cracked, this crack may be practically invisible — either with a visual inspection or standard diagnostic testing (such as radiography). CTS involves the tooth having a wide-ranging crack throughout a significant portion of its structure, without any of the tooth having broken off. The dental pulp (the tooth's nerve) is usually unaffected, but it can become infected without treatment. Since it can be an elusive dental condition in terms of its symptoms, what are some of the signs that you might be affected by CTS?

Biting and Pressure

Discomfort (and even pain) is the most prominent symptom of CTS, but this discomfort can be inconsistent and can vary considerably in its intensity. This makes it difficult to determine the seriousness of the problem. You may experience pain when biting down on food, particularly when you release your bite. This is due to the cracked segments of your tooth experiencing unnatural pressure when your bite is released, causing these segments to exert pressure on the tooth's internal nerve. Of course, a crack in a tooth is going to worsen without treatment and may lead to infection of your dental pulp, meaning you'll need a root canal. Arguably, CTS is a temporary condition in that it's either treated or develops into a more serious fracture and pulpitis (infection of the dental pulp).

Diagnosing and Treating CTS

Your dentist has a few options to diagnose any suspected instances of CTS, despite the condition being relatively difficult to identify. A simple bite test will be performed, which involves you biting a small endodontic device (essentially a piece of acrylic) that can replicate the discomfort associated with CTS. Your dentist will also view your tooth under magnification and illumination, and may even apply a special dye to make the tiny crack seem more prominent. Once CTS has been identified, you'll need a restoration. This may involve a dental crown, but since only the cracked section of the tooth needs reinforcement, your dentist might simply apply a dental onlay, which is a type of partial crown.

Strange, inconsistent, and varying levels of pain in a tooth must be reported to your dentist, as you might well be experiencing CTS.

For more information, contact a dentist near you.