Fractured teeth present a diagnostic and treatment planning dilemma
The following is a proposed algorithm/decision tree for assessment, diagnosis, prognosis determination, and treatment planning:
A crack presentation on a virgin tooth can be clinically inspected (no coronal coverage or box restorations preventing visible inspection),
A. The fiberoptic transillumination-light transmits across fracture plane, then
likely a craze line not extending significantly into crown dentin:monitor no treatment
B. The fiberoptic light beam breaks at crack line (dark on crown opposite suspected crack line), then minimum tx: protect occlusion (adjustment) and proceed to endo testing
Clinical and Vitality testing
If within normal limits (pressure tests: percussion, biting, chewing, thermal tests), then protect occlusion and monitor only, or
- There exists sharp cold sensitivity and/or sensitivity upon pressure tests, especially pain upon release of biting or chewing pressure, then proceed with full-cuspal protection crown prep (no sharp angles ( ¾ gold crowns are unacceptable and not very protective, full gold ideal with long-term supportive evidence, zirconium possible option but no long-term evidence)
After Crack Preparation and Assessment of Extension
Note the extent of the crack into dentin (ideally with a microscope, loupes are inadequate) and microprepare the crack on the occlusal surface within the outline of an ideal endo access prep, then
- If the crack is eliminated by a relatively shallow micropreparation, then provisionalize and monitor for a month, then
a. If the tooth remains asymptomatic and vital: proceed with final restorative plan, or
b. If the tooth develops symptoms (ache, sharp cold sensitivity, especially heat, pressure sensitivity, then schedule for endodontic treatment before restorative work
- If the crack is virtually certain to enter the pulp or tertiary dentin and/or calcific pulp degeneration with radiographic advancement notably more significant than adjacent teeth (i.e. not physiologic aging), then perform endodontic access with further crack exploration, or
Exploratory Endo Access
A. Crack crown-limited (supragingival level), then finish endodontic treatment , core, and restorative plan (a favorable prognosis is expected if restored with an ideal fracture resistance design; i.e full cuspal coverage/no sharp angles)
B. Crack crown-limited (subgingival, but not subosseous level), then inform patient of guarded-to-fair long term prognosis and risks of future crack propagation, next proceed with their informed consent, and internally microprepare the crack with a bonded core (ideally sandblasted clean to improve bonding) Some new evidence suggests bioceramics and Biodentine (tricalcium silicate materials) have favorable strength properties and flow for certain situations. A goal is to minimize the chance of caries developing within the crack interface and weakening the tooth predisposing it to crack propagation
C. Crack extends 1-3mm into root dentin (below pulp chamber floor into the orifice), then inform patient of a guarded prognosis and that treatment is heroic (the tooth must have high strategic value for retention with the implant option being judged less favorable), and with the patient’s consent proceed with endodontic treatment and the restorative follow-up plan ( an ideal fracture resistant restoration is essential, likely full gold crown)
D. Crack extends deep into the root dentin beyond 3 mm, then extract tooth
For years dentists have wrestled with a protocol for treating cracked teeth. Some caveats, or exceptions to these guidelines exist and validating high level science is scant. Patients with parafunction/bruxism are more likely to require extraction. If a crack is limited to the distal surface of the most distal tooth one can consider being more heroic in a treatment attempt (eg. a crack through the distal marginal ridge of a lower second molar because a minor angular periodontal defect on the distal is not going to compromise an adjacent tooth that does not exist).
There are many shades of gray and cases where the decision simply rests with the temperament of the patient to accept uncertainty and their need to retain the tooth for an intermediate period of time in their life.
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