The horrific realization that you have a cracked tooth can make you self-conscious about your smile, cause pain or temperature sensitivity and make you vulnerable to infection. If you don't want to spend many more hours in the dentists's chair fixing multiple cracks with veneers or dental crowns, employ these strategies immediately to help make this first cracked tooth your last.

Stop Exposing your Teeth to the Hard Stuff

This first strategy may seem obvious, but you might be surprised at the wide range of foods and other items that can damage tooth enamel, leading to cracks and premature wear. Many of these include foods that pose a clear challenge to teeth, such as hard candies, while others are innocent-looking "Trojan horses" that contain a hard surprise within, such as popcorn kernels or the hidden hard surprises inside some chocolates. If you've bitten down on something hard and cracked a tooth as a result, use this unhappy leaning experience to modify your diet or explore your foods with greater care. It's also a good idea to give up the habit of crunching on ice, which can easily cause cracked teeth.

Foreign objects can sometimes increase tooth wear and make your teeth vulnerable to cracking. Tongue piercings are one common example. The barbell that holds the piercing in place can make contact with neighboring teeth all too easily -- and in a contest of strength between dental enamel and solid metal, the outcome is depressingly clear. One study found that 14 percent of tongue piercing owners experienced tooth fractures. You may want to retire this particular cosmetic enhancement from your daily look.

Avoid Acidic Foods

Overtly hard or damaging items aren't the only things that can lead to cracked teeth. Many people expose their tooth enamel to a variety of acidic foods and beverages every day, leaching minerals from the enamel and increasing the risk of stress fractures and other damage. These troublemaking substances include:

  • Fruit juice and citrus fruits, which contain high amounts of citric acid
  • Sugary foods and starchy carbohydrates, which are converted into acids by bacteria
  • Soda, which contains not only lots of sugar but also carbonation (another enamel-damaging substance)

One of the most powerful steps you can take to prevent future tooth fractures is to replace the sugary soda in your fridge with:

  • Water - Fluoridated water protects teeth and helps wash the mouth clean of food particles.
  • Milk - Milk bathes the teeth in calcium and phosphorus, strengthening the enamel while protecting against bacteria.
  • Tea - Tea has natural antibacterial properties that help keep oral bacteria under control, reducing the acid content in your mouth.

Add Dental Crowns to Weakened Teeth

Did your cracked tooth occur around a large filling? It's not an uncommon occurrence. Over the years you may have had that filling re-drilled and expanded -- and once a metal filling takes up more than about two-thirds of the tooth's chewing surface, the surrounding enamel is significantly thinned and weakened, reducing the structural integrity of the tooth and making it vulnerable to breakage. This is why dentists usually add dental crowns to teeth at the conclusion of root canal therapy, a dental restoration procedure that involves making a large opening in the enamel.

If you have a mouthful of large cavities, you could wind up with a mouthful of cracked teeth unless you replace those cavities with dental crowns. You'll be strengthening your teeth for many years to come -- and if you choose realistic, tooth-colored porcelain crowns, you can also greatly improve the looks of those old metal-filled molars.

Get Your Bruxism Treated

Do you clench or grind your teeth, especially overnight? Many people do, either in response to emotional stress or because of an underlying bite misalignment. This condition is called bruxism, and it's a surefire way to damage tooth enamel. The recurring pressure and friction can wear down the chewing surfaces and even produce cracks or breaks. Could this be the reason for your cracked tooth?

If you experience jaw pain or fatigue, notice that your teeth appear worn or damaged, or even catch yourself in the act of clenching or grinding, it's time to ask your dentist about treatment for bruxism. One common fix is a custom-fitted mouth guard, typically worn at night to protect the teeth against unconscious clenching or grinding motions. Jaw tension associated with stress may be relieved by treating the stress itself through non-dental tactics such as meditation, prescribed anti-anxiety drugs or lifestyle adjustments. Severe bite misalignment may require surgical intervention, but you may decide that the relief from constant jaw pain and future tooth damage is more than worth it.

A cracked tooth isn't the end of the world, but it could be a warning of greater trouble to come. Head those problems off at the pass by talking to a dentist, such as those at Bae & Bae Family Denistry, about these and other strategies for keeping your other teeth intact!