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Chipped Tooth or Tartar Falling Off? How To Tell

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A man standing outside in a park wearing a blue shirt smiling with a chipped tooth.

If you see something fall out of your mouth, do you need to be worried about a chipped, damaged tooth? You may wonder if you should rush to the dentist to treat your smile or if another cause is possible—like tartar falling off your teeth. 

A recommended way to tell the difference between a chipped tooth and tartar is to think about the situation and look at the colour of whatever fell out of your mouth

What Causes a Chipped Tooth?

A chipped tooth is a small piece of enamel, the protective coating on your teeth, that has broken off. You can get a chipped tooth when your tooth wears down, or you get hit with enough force to knock a piece off. 

Sometimes, you may not notice a chipped tooth right away because it may not cause pain. You typically feel discomfort if the chip is severe enough to expose the tooth’s nerves

Some potential causes of a chipped tooth can include the following: 

  • Teeth grinding when you sleep
  • A hit to the mouth
  • Falls or accidents
  • Damage from biting hard foods or surfaces

The Risks of a Chipped Tooth

While a chipped tooth may only seem like a cosmetic issue, it can lead to significant complications if left unaddressed. A more severe chipped tooth can affect the roots of your tooth, leading to a potential infection. 

A tooth infection can cause several uncomfortable symptoms, including: 

  • Sensitive teeth
  • Fever
  • Bad breath
  • Sour taste in the mouth
  • Tooth pain when eating
  • Swollen glands in the jaw and neck

Your dentist can treat an infected tooth with a root canal—a procedure where they remove the infected pulp. 

What Is Tartar?

Tartar, also known as calculus, is what happens when you leave plaque on your teeth for too long. Plaque is a clear and sticky coating that occurs when your saliva mixes with the sugars in your mouth after a meal. 

If plaque isn’t removed fast enough, it calcifies into tartar. Tartar damages your teeth with time due to the bacteria present, causing tooth decay

Is It a Chipped Tooth or Tartar Falling Off Your Tooth?

If something falls out of your mouth that looks like a piece of your tooth, it’s more than likely tartar. Little bits of tartar can fall off if you brush too hard or scrape at your teeth. Your enamel is unlikely to break unless it’s very worn down or you suffer a heavy enough hit to your mouth. 

Look at the context if something tooth-shaped falls out of your mouth. Are your teeth worn down, or did you just get hit or fall? If not, it’s likely tartar. 

Additionally, tartar is brittle and typically a brown or yellow colour. If you can crumble the material and it’s a darker colour than your tooth, it’s probably tartar. 

If you chip your tooth, you’ll need treatment to fix the damage. 

A woman sitting in a dentist's chair smiling while her dentist examines her teeth.

How Can You Treat a Chipped Tooth?

If you chip a tooth, you should rinse your mouth with warm water to clean the tooth. Apply pressure to stop any bleeding, and use a cold compress to prevent swelling. 

Your chipped tooth isn’t a dental emergency as long as you’re not experiencing any pain. You still need to treat a chipped tooth, and your dentist has several options available: 

  • Tooth reattachment: Your dentist can help reattach your tooth if you’re quick enough. Place the broken-off tooth into a glass of milk or tuck it between your gums to protect the fragment. Your dentist can cement the tooth back in place. 
  • Veneers: Veneers help restore your smile by repairing cracked or chipped teeth. Your dentist removes some of your enamel to make space for your veneer and makes an impression of the damaged tooth. After the veneer is ready, they bond it to your tooth, improving its appearance. 
  • Bonding: Dental bonding involves applying composite resin or porcelain to your tooth and then shaping it to fill the chipped section. After shaping the bonding material, your dentist uses a curing light to harden the bond. They then further shape it until you’re satisfied with the result. 
  • Dental onlays: Your dentist can use a dental onlay to repair your tooth if only part of it is damaged. They create a mould of the tooth, or scan the tooth and send it to a lab to create the onlay, placing the final product when it’s ready. 

What About Tartar?

Prevention is the best way to deal with tartar—don’t even let it form! You can protect your teeth from tartar by brushing and flossing at least twice a day and regularly visiting your dentist

If you have tartar, you can’t remove it alone. Your dentist has the specialized tools to remove tartar and clean your teeth. They use a scaler to scrape tartar away from your teeth and gums

Here for Healthy Smiles

Whether you have a chipped tooth or tartar, your dentist can help protect your dental health. They can remove tartar or use one of the several ways available to treat a chipped tooth. Your dentist is here to help, no matter your dental needs. Contact our team at our Ottawa dental clinic if you believe that you may have a chipped tooth. Our experienced dentist will perform an assessment and help bring back your healthy smile.

Dr. Ferhana Jaleel

Written by Dr. Ferhana Jaleel

As a dentist in the Ottawa area Dr. Ferhana Jaleel has been practicing full-time general dentistry over 25 years and expertly cares for patients of all ages.

To ensure that she provides patients with the best quality and most advanced care, she continually upgrades her knowledge and skills. This continued education covers topics on cosmetic and reconstructive periodontal surgery, aesthetics including Lumineers®, orthodontics, Invisalign®, placement and restoration of dental implants, and many others.

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