Why a Chipped Tooth is a Big Deal

chipped tooth

San Francisco and Marin CA

Tooth enamel is the hardest and toughest substance in the human body. Despite this, teeth can be chipped (and even broken). Being struck in the mouth forcefully, falling on the mouth, and biting down too hard on something too hard can do it, especially if the tooth is weakened by decay. Nighttime grinding (bruxism) can also chip a tooth.

A chipped tooth which seems to retain its complete function, and one that does not cause agonizing pain, can lead to the impression that the chipped tooth is not that big of a deal. However, chipped teeth can have a number of consequences, some merely unpleasant, and some potentially very serious. What can these consequences be?


In the first place, a chip in a prominent tooth (such as the front teeth) can cause a change in appearance. Depending on the size of the chip, this change can be fairly noticeable, and may be considered unsightly (if only to the sufferer). Furthermore, it can cause a slight change in speech, as the tongue may have to “relearn” the landscape of the mouth. These may both combine to create self-consciousness which can cause emotional discomfort.


The very act of chipping the tooth itself may be painful. Even if it is not, or the pain decreases over time, it may be sharp and (depending on where the chipped tooth is in the mouth) cut the tongue, lip, and cheek, causing pain that can be considerable.

Furthermore, the indentation in the tooth may be sensitive, especially to heat, cold, and sugar, and may hurt when eating certain kinds of foods.

Overall dental health

A deep, large chip may also cause additional complications. If it goes deep enough, a crack or chip might affect the nerve of the tooth. This can lead to infection that can cause even further damage to the tooth and even to the jaw if it is not treated.

Even smaller chips carry the possibility of allowing bacteria to gather and gain hold on the tooth. This bacteria produces acid which can cause further harm to the enamel, causing the area around the chip to decay. Such bacteria also tends to cause bad breath. Finally, because of the bacteria, small chips can grow larger, leading to the same problems as were mentioned above. In the absolute worse case scenario, the tooth may even be lost, and, again, the jaw might be affected.


A chipped tooth should, therefore, be considered a big deal even if the chip itself is small, difficult to see or hidden, and does not cause pain. The first step is a visit to a dentist, who will evaluate the tooth for damage done to it and the likelihood for further complications.

In the best case scenario, a small chip may not require any further action be taken at all, though it is always best to seek a dentist’s opinion on this. Likewise, it may be that if there is work to be done, it might be very minor. For example, the dentist may advise some mild filing to take off any sharp edges and smooth the surface, or recommend applying cosmetic bonding, which is a resin that can be matched to the color of the teeth. This resin will seal the chip and restore appearance. These procedures can usually be completed in a single visit.

On the other hand, more serious injuries resulting in larger chips or even cracked or broken teeth will probably require further action. Chips which are bigger (or have gotten bigger) may need to be covered with veneers, which are artificial teeth that are fitted over existing teeth. Alternatively, a crown, which is like a veneer except far more extensive and therefore for more severe cases, may be required. Crowns will definitely be needed if the damaged tooth requires a root canal, which might be necessary if the injury or subsequent worsening of the chip has allowed bacteria to reach the root of the tooth.

A root canal will require multiple visits. A crown without a root canal might also (as might veneers), since a mold of the affected tooth will have to be taken and the crown or veneer manufactured elsewhere. In the case of crowns and veneers, multiple visits might be avoided if the dentist has CEREC (Chairside Economical Restoration of Esthetic Ceramic) technology, which uses computer-assisted models and 3-D printing to create a crown or veneer in the office. CEREC can allow for crowns and veneers to be placed that very day, though the visit to the dentist might be a little longer.

Chipped teeth

A chipped tooth may be painful enough to grab a sufferer’s attention immediately, or it might be slight enough to allow itself to be ignored. Either way, chipped teeth should always result in a visit to a dentist, who will know how to keep a chipped tooth from getting bad and how to make it better.

General dentistry in the Bay Area of California

Glen Park Dental is here to serve you in the Marin and San Francisco areas in California. Visit us online or call us at (415) 585-1500 to schedule an appointment today.