Options For a Broken Wisdom Tooth

Updated: Sep 9

If your wisdom tooth suddenly breaks, what should you do and is it even an emergency? This article will explain why it could've happened and also all of your options in dealing with this broken third molar.


Just in case you were wondering, it is typically not recommended to just leave it broken as is which we'll explain why. Hopefully all of this will help you in making your decision as to what you should do with it.



Table of Contents:



Why did my wisdom tooth break?

Any type of dental condition that will affect the structural integrity can potentially cause the wisdom tooth to break. Once the tooth becomes weakened enough, it will become more prone to fractures and eventually crack.


Large cavities

One of the most common causes for your wisdom tooth to break is due to large decay. Typically small cavities will not compromise the structural integrity of the tooth for it to happen. However, untreated small cavities can grow bigger and progress through the stages of tooth decay.


small cavity
small cavity

Once it has gotten large enough, the entire structure of the tooth will become compromised. It will either form a cavitation due to the cavity or it'll weaken the enamel enough that the tooth will just crack from biting into something like soft bread.


large cavity
large cavity


Physical trauma

Suddenly biting into hard foods at just the right angle can potentially cause the tooth to fracture and wisdom teeth are no exception. The amount of force that you use to bite down on something unsuspectingly hard or accidentally can cause a piece of the tooth to be sheared off.


fractured veneer
fractured veneer

These types of physical injuries happen more commonly with front teeth such as a dental veneer in the photo above. The patient bit into something really hard and cracked off half of the veneer. The same thing can also happen to a wisdom tooth if you happen to be chewing something hard on it.


Dental infection

Sometimes an infection can result in compromised tooth structure. When the tooth becomes weakened enough, it may eventually break while you're eating or just sporadically after you wake up in the morning.


You should definitely not wait it out if you have an infection. You should see a dentist immediately to have it cured because you don't want it to become an emergency.


Teeth grinding

If you grind your teeth at night, the enamel will slowly become worn away. This actually affects more than just your wisdom teeth because it affects every single tooth in your mouth.


The end result is very flat looking teeth in your entire mouth. Since a lot of the tooth is already worn away, it'll become more prone to breaking and fractures. That means if you happen to bite into something the wrong way, you could crack off even more of the wisdom tooth.


If you are grinding at night, you should ask your dentist to make you a night guard to wear. It is an oral appliance when you wear over your teeth to protect them. It won't make you stop grinding but at least you'll grind through the plastic instead of your own enamel!


Nutritional deficiencies

Our teeth and bones require a lot of calcium and vitamin D to be strong and healthy. If you're not getting enough of it in your diet, it can weaken not only your teeth but also your bones. That is why it is important to have a diet that is rich in both of them.


Here are some foods that are high in calcium and vitamin D:

  • Milk

  • Almonds

  • Tofu

  • Leafy greens

  • Soy milk

  • Canned fish

  • Beans

  • Juices fortified with calcium


If you're unsure if you have a sufficient amount of vitamins, you should go in for your physical and do some blood tests. Your primary care doctor will let you know if you have any nutritional deficiencies.



What a broken wisdom tooth looks like

If you weren't sure what a broken wisdom tooth looks like, here are a couple of pictures as visual reference. Basically, it looks like a piece of the molar is missing.


Large hole on the side of wisdom tooth
Large hole on the side of wisdom tooth

Here is a picture of a lower wisdom tooth where the part by the gum line is completely broken off. It looks like there is a hole near the gum line.


wisdom tooth broken off by the gum line
wisdom tooth broken off by the gum line

Here is a picture of a top wisdom tooth that has the same piece broken off near gum line but it is not as bad as the above picture.


hole on side of upper wisdom tooth
hole on side of upper wisdom tooth

broken upper left twisdom tooth
broken upper left twisdom tooth


Recommended treatments for a broken wisdom tooth

For broken wisdom teeth, there are three recommended treatments which your dentist may utilize. Which one you should use would all depend on how bad the molar is broken.


The extent of the breakage and their respective treatment:



Smooth down the chipped edges

If your third molar only has a mild or small chip, it may not even necessitate a filling on it. Small chips are incredibly difficult for bondings to stay onto the tooth because the surface area is so small. There is also the fact that it is difficult to work on the wisdom tooth which is the last tooth in your mouth.


In cases like these, it is best to just smooth down the small chip. Polish up the sharp edges and you should be good to go. The entire appointment should take less than 10 minutes so you'll be in and out in a jiffy. This is probably the best case scenario that you could hope for but you must be eligible for it by having only a very small piece break off.



Dental filling

If the piece that broke off of your wisdom tooth is bigger than a small chip but not big enough to render it non-restorable, you could just have it filled. In other words, if it is a medium sized fracture, you may be able to just do a traditional tooth filling on it.


The process and procedure for it is the same as getting a cavity filling on any other tooth in your mouth. The only difference is that this one is located on the last tooth in your mouth, the third molar.


However, just be aware that if you're not able to open your mouth wide enough or if the tooth is impacted, making it difficult to restore with a composite filling... You may still need the tooth to be taken out, which we'll explain in the next section.



Wisdom tooth extraction

Severely broken wisdom teeth will definitely need to be extracted because those cannot be restored. Although we say that, it is also not unusual to just have them taken out for other reasons such as them being too far back to put a filling in properly. They can also be removed if they are somewhat impacted.


impacted third molar
impacted third molar

As an example, if you get a cavity in an impacted wisdom tooth like in the photo above, it is next to impossible to put a filling in it. That means it will need to be removed.


Related content: We have a lot more photos of wisdom teeth in this article here.


Basically, very large fractures of situations which render it difficult to restore will result in needing the tooth extracted.


What to expect for a wisdom tooth extraction:

  1. Administer local anesthetic to numb the molar.

  2. Cut through the periodontal ligament with a sharp instrument.

  3. Elevate the tooth with an elevator to life it up out of the socket.

  4. Deliver the tooth with forceps by grabbing it.

  5. Currette the socket to clean it out.

  6. Irrigate to remove any debris in the socket.


Depending on the situation, you may or may not leave with stitches after having the wisdom tooth removed. It is not customary to have them unless your dentist had to cut through the gums or lay a flap.



Non-recommended options for broken wisdom teeth

Usually the default option for broken wisdom teeth would be to have it extracted. That is because the location of the tooth makes it difficult to restore via traditional means. It would be a different story if it was any other tooth except the wisdom tooth.


Here are some treatment options for broken teeth but NOT recommended for broken wisdom teeth due to the reasons listed above:


Overall, we believe that you may be wasting your money on trying to do these procedures on this broken tooth. It will be significantly less costly if you had it extracted instead.

  • The tooth is so far back that no one sees it.

  • Cosmetic dollars should be spent on front teeth and not back teeth.



Root canal

Doing a root canal on a wisdom tooth typically has a very poor prognosis. The success rate is significantly lower because wisdom teeth tend to have the most varied canal morphology out of any other tooth. This makes it very difficult for your dentist to perform a successful root canal.


In addition to that, they are also so far back in the mouth that your dentist may not be able to access the tooth properly. If they can't get into the canal, then they can't perform the procedure and its as simple as that.


Dental crown

Once in a blue moon, there will be a dentist who will attempt to crown a wisdom tooth. Not that it can't be done but it is just frustratingly difficult to do so. The main reason is because of where the tooth is located and how far back it is.


Due to non-optimal positioning and location, the success rate for the crown would be lower than if it were done for other teeth. You may be wasting your money if you were trying to get a crown on it. It'll be a lot less expensive if you simply had it removed instead.


Dental veneer

We have yet to see a dentist that was brave enough to try a veneer on a wisdom tooth. When we do, we will present it as a case study here!


A veneer is a cosmetic procedure that is used to change the shape of your tooth. However since your wisdom tooth is literally the last tooth in your mouth, we're not sure what kind of aesthetic improvement you'd even get. No one can even see the wisdom tooth aside from your dentist and hygienist.


Therefore, we would have to ask you the same question once again. Is it really worth it to spend money on a veneer for a wisdom tooth? We think the money would be better spent on a front tooth instead!




Risks for leaving it untreated

You should definitely not leave a broken wisdom tooth untreated because it will eventually get worse. Broken things don't magically fix itself so if you were hoping that this problem would go away, you may be waiting for a very long time.


Possible complications:

  • Tooth could break off more.

  • Can start causing you pain.

  • Could get infected and turn into an abscess.


Overall, the longer you wait the more serious it can become. It can also become more costly as well. One of the least expensive treatment options would be to have it extracted. Although if you wait long enough for it to get infected, you could need to have it drained in addition to having it extracted.


All of that is additional expenses and treatment time that you could've saved yourself if you simply took care of it as soon as you noticed the problem. We're really not trying to have you spend more money and time at the dentist so please do yourself a favor and schedule your consultation as soon as possible!



Takeaway

You should definitely not leave a wisdom tooth that broke off untreated. At the very least you should opt for one of the treatment options that we listed above. After all, we don't want you to end up in pain on some random night during a holiday weekend when all dental offices are closed.


According to Murphy's Law, anything that can go wrong will go wrong and it'll often be at the most inopportune time. With that in mind, we highly recommend that you seek out a dentist to have it fixed as promptly as possible.

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About the author: Dr David Chen, DDS

Hello, I'm Dr Chen and I'm an actively practicing dentist in Long Island City, NY. I graduated from Columbia University College of Dental Medicine in 2016 but prior to going to dental school I was already working in the dental field. It's been more than a decade since I first got to know dentistry and let me tell you, time flies by quickly. Since then I've developed a fondness for writing, which is how this all got started!

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Medical Disclaimer:

This blog is purely meant for information purposes and should not be used as medical advice. Each situation in your mouth is unique and complex. It is not possible to give advice nor diagnose any oral conditions based on text nor virtual consultations. The best thing to do is to go in person to see your dentist for an examination and consultation so that you can receive the best care possible.

The purpose of all of this oral health information is to encourage you to see your dentist and to inform you of what you may expect during your visit. Due to the unfortunate nature of dentistry, there isn't really any true home remedies that will get rid of dental problems. Roughly 99.99% of them require in-person intervention by a healthcare professional.

Hint: That is the reason why you can't eliminate seeing dentists in your life!