Sometimes, regardless of your proper oral care regimen, a tooth can get chipped. Teeth may be damaged in various ways– such as chewing something hard when the tooth is vulnerable or having an accident where a tooth is hit. Depending on how serious the chip is, where it is located, and the pain level you experience, you may need dental work to repair your tooth and protect it from further damage. It’s possible you could need a cosmetic procedure to restore your smile and functionality.

What should you do if you chip a tooth? You may be very upset when a tooth chips and may not know how to proceed. At Sninski & Schmitt Family Dentistry, our team is experienced in repairing chipped teeth and can be your first line of defense when it happens. In this article, we provide information about what you should do when you chip a tooth. But, foremost, to diagnose the damage, you should make an appointment quickly to see a dentist when you chip a tooth.

A Chipped Tooth is a Common Dental Injury

A chipped tooth is a common dental injury that occurs when a piece of the tooth’s enamel breaks off. Tooth enamel is the hard outer layer of your teeth that protects the sensitive tissue inside. The enamel is very sturdy but it is not incapable of being destroyed. A tooth may be more susceptible to chipping or cracking when decayed or weakened. A slightly chipped tooth doesn’t usually cause major issues. However, severe chips that expose the tissue (pulp) beneath the enamel require dental work to protect the tooth.

These are some common causes of chipped teeth:

  • Injuries from sports, falls, accidents
  • Chewing or biting on hard foods or objects
  • Teeth grinding (bruxism)

Risk Factors

Anything that puts you at risk of injury to your mouth increases the chances of a chipped tooth. But, a chip can occur for no apparent reason. It’s possible to bite into something moderately soft and still chip a tooth. This can happen because your enamel is already worn down and prone to injury.

Here are some things that make your teeth more vulnerable to injury:

  • Tooth decay – Cavities make your teeth more susceptible to injury.
  • Eating a lot of sugary or acidic foods – These foods wear down the enamel over time, resulting in the vulnerability of chipping or cracking.
  • GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) – Acid reflux causes stomach acid to backwash into your mouth. If acid reflux is long-lasting, the acid can break down your enamel over time.
  • Previous dental work – When you have major dental work performed, it preserves your teeth but can also weaken them, making them more susceptible to injury.
  • Age – Teeth weaken over time. You are more likely to chip your teeth if you are over age 50.
  • Bruxism – Grinding your teeth over a long period of time can thin the tooth structure.

Symptoms of a Chipped Tooth

The only sign of a chipped tooth is often a missing tooth fragment. If it is a front tooth that is chipped, you will see it in a mirror. You will feel a rough edge when you run your tongue over the tooth. If the tooth loses a large fragment, a nerve may be exposed, causing pain. You may experience sensitivity when chewing or consuming foods and drinks that are hot or cold.

What You Can Do Before Seeing a Dentist

Immediately after the chip occurs, you may need to address the pain and protect the tooth and the inside of your mouth. If you can’t get in to see a dentist right away, there are some things you can do as first-aid measures in the interim:

  • Save any piece of the tooth you can find. Your dentist may be able to attach the fragment back with an adhesive.
  • If there is bleeding, use a clean gauze and gently apply pressure to the tooth.
  • Take over-the-counter medication if you have pain associated with the chip. The medication will help minimize the pain and control the swelling.
  • Keep your mouth rinsed with warm salt water to help remove food particles that may aggravate the tooth.
  • Place a cold compress over the site of the injury to reduce swelling.
  • Apply dental wax to the edges of the chip to smooth it and protect your tongue and cheeks.

Treatment Options for a Chipped Tooth

Upon seeing a dentist, he/she will recommend a treatment option based on the extent of your injury and the specifics of your case. Here are several types of treatments your dentist may suggest.

Bonding or Filling

If there is only a small piece of tooth enamel that has chipped off, a filling can more than likely repair it. If it is a front tooth, the dentist can use the same composite resin material that is used for tooth-colored fillings to restore the tooth. The resin is applied directly to the tooth and no numbing is required.

Tooth Reattachment

If you have been able to save the portion of the tooth that chipped off and can get in to see the dentist fairly quickly, it may be possible to cement the broken fragment back in place. But, this is only an option if the cells of the tooth fragment are still alive. You can protect the fragment temporarily by either holding it in your mouth between the cheek and gum to keep it moist or by placing it in a glass of milk to be surrounded by calcium and liquid. These methods don’t keep the fragment alive for long, so you must see a dentist right away.


If the tooth has a large fragment broken off or if the tooth is too severely decayed for a filling, a crown may be an option to repair the damage. A crown is a prosthesis made of durable, strong materials such as metal, resin, or porcelain. It fits over the remaining portion of the tooth and is made to be evenly shaped to the original tooth.

Root Canal

If the tooth fragment is so large that the pulp of the tooth is exposed, a root canal procedure may be needed. When pulp is exposed, bacteria can reach the blood vessels and become established causing an infection. A root canal procedure involves cleaning out the root of the tooth, removing the pulp, and sealing the tooth. After a root canal procedure, the tooth is weaker than the others and may need a crown as a follow-up procedure.


An onlay is like a filling that extends over part of the tooth’s surface. It differs from a crown in that it doesn’t cover the entire tooth. However, it is different from a filling in that it has to be created in a lab before the dentist can adhere it to the tooth. The extensive preparation needed for a crown is not needed for an onlay.


A veneer may be the appropriate treatment if you have a relatively minor chip in a front tooth. Instead of repairing the chipped tooth, the veneer covers up the tooth so the chip isn’t visible.

Contact Sninski & Schmitt Family Dentistry to Fix Your Chipped Tooth

If you are in a situation where you chip a tooth, contact our dental team at Sninski & Schmitt Family Dentistry immediately. We offer emergency services so we are available when accidents happen. Our professionals are experienced with repairing chips regardless of their size and the extent of the damage. Call our Holly Springs dentist office at (919) 600-6262 and our Cary, NC dentist office at (919) 467-2203. Or, use our online form to schedule an appointment.

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