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December 15th, 2011

Did you ever stop to think, “What might cause teeth to fracture?”  Well, it turns out that there are several factors that can weaken and stress teeth beyond their breaking point.
Teeth are weakened by decay and fillings.  Even the newest bonded type of filling will not restore the original strength of the natural tooth.  The larger the damage, the weaker the remaining tooth will be, and the more susceptible to fracture from the force of what might be a normal bite.
Forces that work on these weak teeth include rapid temperature change and biting pressure.  Dental fillings, like most solids, expand with heat and contract with cold.  The problem is that this expansion and contraction happens at different rates for fillings and tooth structure.  So as we switch from hot coffee to ice cream, the fillings and teeth are moving at different rates or even in different directions, leading to the development of internal fractures and failure of the seal of the filling margins.  Chewing on very hard items can put excessive forces on very small areas of a tooth.  If already weakened, the tooth can fracture.
Ice is a real culprit since it provides both rapid temperature change and a very hard surface that puts great force on teeth.  It may be the worst habit for those with many large fillings in their back teeth.
Our advice to all patients is to avoid the “Non-foods”.  Things like jaw breakers and other hard candies, ice, using the teeth as tools to open packages, strip wires and pulling gloves on and off should always be avoided.  If you know you are at risk, that is you have large fillings or root canal treated teeth, you need to be even more careful.  If fractures appear internally, or if the tooth actually breaks, your dentist might recommend a crown to restore strength.

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