Every tooth has a hard, outer layer called enamel. Enamel is the hardest material in the whole body. It protects the tooth’s blood vessels and nerve tissues.

Cavities are the leading cause of toothache and decay, which can actually break your teeth. Biting into something hard, loosened fillings, and sports accidents can also cause you to crack enamel or break a tooth.

A broken tooth can be painful and ultimately needs to be treated by a dentist to avoid further damage or complications. But there are some things you can do yourself to manage pain and symptoms. Let’s take a look.

A broken tooth doesn’t always hurt, or the pain may come and go. But if you have exposed nerves or tooth dentin, your tooth may be very sensitive (especially to cold drinks).

If a broken tooth leaves a sharp edge it may also cut your tongue and cheek.

Until you can see a dentist, there are ways to treat pain from a broken tooth at home. These treatments will make you more comfortable temporarily, but should never replace seeing a doctor or dentist.

Rinse to clean your mouth

Gently rinse your mouth each time you eat to clear debris from around the broken tooth. You can use plain, warm water, or saline water, or a rinse made of equal parts water and hydrogen peroxide.

Just don’t swish too hard. This can help to avoid infection and more pain.

Ice to reduce swelling

If your face is swelling, apply ice in 15-minute intervals as long as you need.

Cover ice cubes or a cold pack with a towel and hold it to the part of your face that’s swollen. If your broken tooth is the result of a sports impact or injury, it could take days for swelling and bruising to improve.

Use gauze for blood

Reduce bleeding by placing clean gauze inside the mouth near the affected area. Replace gauze whenever it fills with blood.

Be careful with what you eat

A broken tooth might have exposed nerve that’s extra sensitive to certain foods and temperatures.

Avoid:

  • acidic soda, alcohol, and coffee
  • cold beverages, which can cause painful zinging in exposed nerve
  • nuts and celery, which can get stuck in the tiny cracks in the tooth
  • anything too chewy that puts pressure on the tooth, such as steak, jerky, gum, and candy
  • fruits with seeds in them, like strawberries and raspberries
  • extremely sugary foods, as sugar gives organisms in your mouth more to feed on and can increase decay in your teeth

Instead, try eating soft nutritious food such as smoothies, roasted vegetables, and soup.

Chew on the other side of your mouth

Chew food in parts of your mouth that avoid putting too much pressure on the broken tooth.

Use pain medication

Following label directions or as advised by a doctor, ease pain and swelling with anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen or naproxen. You may also use acetaminophen for pain relief.

Never apply pain medication directly on your gums as it could burn the tissue. And never give products containing benzocaine to children under 2 years old.

Over-the-counter tooth repair

If your tooth is broken and sharp against your tongue, you can find temporary tooth fillings at the pharmacy to soften the edge. Brands such as Temptooth, DenTek, and Dentemp make repair kits you can use at home.

Remember, this is just a temporary, short-term solution. If your tooth has been broken due to extreme trauma or injury, seek immediate medical attention.

If you want to know more about home remedies, we discuss 10 remedies for toothache pain here. For more on a broken tooth specifically, keep reading below.

Any tooth can break, though each is more vulnerable to different injuries.

You can break your front teeth when inappropriately using them to cut or open something (Remember: Always use scissors and never your teeth to open packages.)

Your back molars may be more susceptible to cracks from grinding your teeth or biting down on something hard. Prevent tooth injuries by always wearing a mouthguard when participating in impact sports.

Long term, your teeth are necessary for daily function and quality of life. Beyond just chewing food, teeth help your speech be clear, and each tooth is important for maintaining balanced space in the jaw.

Repairing a broken tooth is necessary for overall health and well-being.

To make the cost more manageable, many offices offer payment plans or dental loan plans. You can also contact a dental school if you have one in your area, or check with your local health department to see if they offer any low-cost dental services or clinics.

— Christine Frank, DDS

If left untreated, a broken tooth can collect bacteria, risking infection or abscess. A broken tooth also risks nerve damage and may lead to needing a root canal.

To prevent infection, keep your mouth clean by gently rinsing after you eat anything. You can try a rinse with hydrogen peroxide.

A small 2016 study found that hydrogen peroxide improved gum inflammation over that of a control group. The study included 45 people with chronic gum inflammation.

In the study, chlorhexidine showed even better results than hydrogen peroxide, however it can cause tooth stains and people are more likely to have hydrogen peroxide on hand already or be able to easily buy it from a pharmacy.

Some people also suggest applying garlic as a natural antibiotic, but you need to be careful. Aside from the potential of accidentally chewing it and lodging tiny pieces in the cracks of the enamel, fresh garlic and its juice has the potential to burn your skin.

To prevent nerve damage, don’t chew or talk too vigorously, and see a dentist right away to fix the problem.

Only a dentist can actually fix a broken tooth. It’s urgent that you call a doctor or dentist right away if your broken tooth is accompanied by a fever or if you have signs of infection (redness, swelling, discoloration, or skin warm to the touch).

A dentist will also be able to assess damage and look for signs of infection. The type of treatment you need depends on the kind of crack you have.

5 things to know about a broken tooth

  1. A minor crack on the tooth’s surface usually doesn’t need repair.
  2. A chip broken off your tooth may just need polishing to soften the edge.
  3. A tooth cracked all the way to its core will need to be filled. If the crack hurt nerve tissue, you may also need a root canal.
  4. Very broken teeth may bleed and require surgical treatment to save the tooth and its root. Sometimes the break starts on the cusp (chewing surface) of the tooth and sometimes it starts down in the root (under the gums).
  5. If your tooth was broken by decay (build-up of plaque that causes cavities), your dentist will decide if the tooth needs to be removed.

If you break a tooth, call your dentist right away.

If the accident occurs after office hours, still call your dentist as they may have an answering service. If it’s after hours and you’re in a lot of pain, you can go to an emergency room or urgent care.

There are different kinds of breaks in teeth. It’s most important you see a dentist to treat the problem and prevent complications, no matter the cause.

But there are ways to manage the pain at home until you can get help such as ice for swelling, avoiding hard foods, and over-the-counter medication.