Radiographs can be so deceiving! This radiograph of the first quadrant looks so calm, so unassuming…everything looks normal. What you didn’t see was the patient attached to this radiograph – having extreme, radiating pain. When everything looks fine on the radiograph, and we have a quadrant full of unrestored or minimally restored teeth, my spidey sense tells me to pick up a probe, and also a transilluminating device. In this particular case, there were no isolated deep probing depths (often suspicious of a root fracture), but transillumination revealed a cracked tooth. The pain can likely be ascribed to the process of “fracture necrosis” – eventual necrosis caused by a significant crack from the outside of the tooth to the pulp. A crack is just one of five types of fractures, which also include craze lines, cuspal fractures, root fractures, and a split tooth. Each are managed a little differently, depending on the presentation.
In this case, we performed a pulpectomy, and used the microscope to look into the crown. It did not appear that the mesial-distal crack extended past the CEJ. The patient had a temporary crown placed that week – and the tooth became comfortable over the ensuing weeks. This is often a nice way for us to ensure the tooth will be comfortable under a crown – an orthodontic band often serves the same purpose. The endodontic therapy was then completed. Even despite the good restorative work that was eventually completed, a tooth with a crack always has a long term guarded prognosis.
Teeth with cracks and fractures can be difficult to detect, visualize, diagnose, and treat. The prognosis of teeth with cracks and fractures also comes with uncertainty and risk. Furthermore, the symptoms of teeth presents with cracks and fractures run the gamut from mild biting sensitivity to severe and radiating pain. However, a few visual aids, like a transillumination light, magnification, and the trusty old periodontal probe can help us to diagnose and manage such cases.