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David Spainhower | 02 January, 2024

Not that you would ever want to break a tooth—it’s certainly something to avoid.  But, knowing the five most common causes of tooth breakage may help you to keep those pearly whites intact.  After all, breaking a tooth can be painful, expensive to repair, and make eating certain foods a chore.  

I remember breaking a tooth when biting into a piece of thin-crust pizza.  I told my dentist, and he sarcastically said, “Yep, pizza is the number one cause of tooth breakage.”  Then he laughed.  Turns out that the reason for my broken tooth qualifies for number 5 on the list of causes: having large dental fillings.  Fortunately, the missing cusp of this molar hasn’t caused pain or even required repair; so, there it sits, imperfect and painless.


When a broken tooth is visible or affects eating or occlusion, it can be a problem.  A broken front tooth (incisor) for example, can change your looks and smile—something you may not like.  I chipped my front teeth and went to my dentist to fill it.  He said, “You can’t go around like that; it automatically lowers your IQ by 10 points!”  Haha!  He masterfully filled and polished it, and I returned to my normal level of intelligence.


  1. Biting down on a hard object, such as popcorn kernels, hard candy, or ice.  This includes car keys, too.  Once, while trying to rescue a pretty damsel in distress, I bit the split car key in an attempt to line up the “teeth” so she could start her car.  This was before  a science class that taught me about the hardness of various minerals and that steel is harder than tooth dentin.  If you’re thinking, “And it was before you developed some common sense,” you’d be correct.  Lesson learned.

  1. Sustaining a blow to the face or mouth, such as during a fight, sports injury, or other type of accident.  Thankfully, mouth/teeth guards are ubiquitous in contact sports.  You see them with football and basketball players, along with fighters, just to name a few.  Drawing again on personal experience, I remember a fight in high school “80 years ago.” Luckily, this time, I wasn’t on the tooth-breaking end of this foolish altercation.  My class ring broke two of the other guy’s teeth and cut his nose.  I had to apologize publicly when we returned to the high school. We got along great the rest of our senior year.

  1. Falling and hitting your mouth on a hard surface.  My son did this.  A neighborhood pickup game of basketball was fun and hotly contested.  He chased a loose ball on the concrete driveway, fell forward, and bit the concrete.  The concrete won.
  2. Grinding your teeth, which can weaken them over time.  This is called bruxism and usually occurs during sleep.  The causes are many, but stress is the main culprit.  Luckily, there are some good dental guards, like the SmartGuard, that work well to prevent clenching and grinding teeth, allowing the jaw muscles to relax and learn to function more normally.


  1. Now to the 5th cause: Having large dental fillings or undergoing a root canal, both of which can make the tooth more fragile.


If you break a tooth, first rinse your mouth out, then apply pressure to stop any bleeding.  Place a cold ice pack on the cheek next to the affected area to reduce swelling, pain, and also to stop bleeding.  If you can, take the piece of broken tooth to your dentist.  If the tooth is now jagged and could scratch your mouth or tongue, put some wax or gum over the sharp parts for protection.  If you need to ameliorate the pain, you could use an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Call a dentist to ask for an appointment.


  1. Toothache:  A variety of factors can cause a toothache.  Advanced gingivitis, tooth decay, or an abscessed tooth are among the most common.  Sometimes a blocked salivary gland can mimic toothache and be very painful.  Seek medical care for this.
  2. Broken dental device or restoration: A crown, filling, or braces can become loose or fall out, which can be painful or certainly unsettling. 
  3. Abscess:  This type of infection can occur in gums or teeth, causing pain and dysfunction.  Seek dental care.


Besides avoiding hard foods and wearing a mouth guard, there are a few other intelligent ways to minimize the chances of breaking a tooth.  Regular dental care and hygiene really helps.  Brush your teeth twice a day, and floss daily.  See your dentist and dental hygienist at least twice a year for check-ups and cleanings.

It’s always tempting to use your teeth as tools to open or bite things other than food.  Remember, teeth are for beauty and eating, not for chewing on fingernails, pencils, or opening packages and bottles.  This includes not biting off pieces of the opponent’s ear in a boxing match.  Right, Tyson?

Abrasive toothpastes can wear down the enamel surface of your teeth, weakening them.  Use gentler toothpastes and soft toothbrushes.  Avoid over-whitening your teeth.  Some products make the teeth more sensitive to hot or cold food and drink.