Why are my teeth breaking off at the gum line?

Quick Answers

There are a few potential reasons why teeth may be breaking off at the gum line:

  • Gum disease – Periodontal disease can cause the gums to recede and expose more of the tooth, leading to weakening and breakage.
  • Grinding/Clenching – Excessive grinding or clenching puts extra stress on the teeth and can cause them to crack and break.
  • Poor dental work – Old fillings, crowns, or other restorations that are failing can lead to tooth breakage.
  • Trauma – A fall, accident, or blow to the mouth can cause teeth to crack or break at the gum line.
  • Tooth structure issues – Brittle teeth, fluorosis, cracks, or pre-existing fractures can make the teeth prone to breaking.

If teeth are breaking suddenly with little provocation, it’s important to see a dentist for an evaluation.

Causes of Teeth Breaking Off at the Gum Line

There are several potential causes that can lead to teeth breaking off at the gum line:

Gum Disease

One of the most common reasons for tooth breakage at the gum line is the presence of periodontal (gum) disease. Gum disease occurs when plaque builds up on the teeth and leads to inflammation and infection of the gums and bone structures that support the teeth. Over time, gum disease can cause receding gums, bone loss, and loosening of the teeth in their sockets.

As the gums recede downward, more of the tooth root gets exposed. The root surface of the tooth is softer than the enamel layer on the crown of the tooth. With more root exposed, teeth become more prone to erosion, decay, and breakage. Even mild forces like eating or grinding can be enough to cause pieces of the tooth to break off once the root is exposed by receding gums.

Grinding and Clenching

Excessive grinding or clenching of the teeth, also known as bruxism, places a lot of extra stress on the teeth. People often grind or clench without realizing it, frequently while sleeping. This constant pressure can cause small cracks and fractures in the teeth. Over time, these fractures weaken the tooth until larger pieces start to break off, usually at the gum line where the highest forces are concentrated during grinding and clenching.

Old Dental Work

As dental fillings, crowns, bridges, and other restorations get older, they are more likely to fail. Cracks can develop in fillings and crowns over years of chewing stress. Older materials and metal dental work can also corrode in the mouth over time. Failed restorations, even tiny cracks, create weaknesses in the overall tooth structure. Eventually sections of the tooth adjacent to old dental work can fracture and break off.


Sudden trauma to the mouth from a fall, accident, or blow can lead to cracked, fractured, and broken teeth. The gum line is a common place for teeth to break when impacted by excessive force. Front teeth are most often affected. Cracked teeth from trauma may not break all the way until days or weeks after the injury event as the fractures propagate. See a dentist immediately after any mouth trauma to stabilize damaged teeth before large sections separate and break off.

Tooth Structure Issues

Some people have teeth that are naturally weak or prone to fracture. Teeth that form with thin enamel are less resilient and can develop cracks and breakage sites from everyday chewing stresses. Developmental enamel defects like fluorosis and tetracycline staining also increase the risk of tooth fractures. Pre-existing small cracks from grinding or prior trauma can get worse over time and turn into larger break-off fractures. Lastly, dental conditions like cavities and deep ridges can create areas of weakness in the overall tooth structure. In these situations, teeth are more likely to break at the gum line even with mild forces.

Symptoms of Breaking Teeth

There are some common signs and symptoms that may indicate your teeth are fractured or breaking off:

– Sharp or jagged edges felt on broken teeth

– Visible cracks, fractures, or missing sections of teeth

– Sensitivity to hot, cold, or sweet foods

– Pain or discomfort when eating on affected teeth

– Exposed tooth roots and gum recession

– Discoloration or abscesses at fracture sites

– Loose, shifting, or altered bite

– Changes in the fit of dental work like crowns or bridges

If you notice any of these warning signs, see your dentist right away for an evaluation. Leaving broken teeth untreated can allow decay to get in and cause further damage. Prompt treatment is key to try and save fractured teeth.

Complications from Breaking Teeth

Teeth that break at the gum line can lead to additional problems if left untreated:

Tooth Loss

Severe fractures left alone may end up progressing to the point that the tooth is lost completely. Pieces continue breaking off over time until too little tooth structure remains. It is best to get dental treatment quickly for the best chance of saving the tooth and avoiding extraction.


The inner pulp tissue of the tooth can become exposed when pieces chip and break off. This can lead to inflammation of the nerve (pulpitis) or infection and abscess formation. Infection requires root canal treatment or extraction to resolve.

Jaw Problems

If multiple teeth are lost from fractures, it can disrupt the bite and lead to issues with the jaw joint, muscles, and chewing function. This type of damage is best prevented by stabilizing fractured teeth early.

Bone Loss

Once teeth are lost, the bone that previously surrounded the tooth roots begins to break down and resorb. This can cause changes in facial structure and make future tooth replacement more difficult.

Digestive Issues

Losing multiple teeth or chewing ability can interfere with proper nutrition and digestion. People may avoid foods they love or have trouble chewing adequately to extract nutrients.

Speech Problems

Missing teeth, especially the front teeth, can affect speech and articulation. Simple consonant sounds like “s” and “f” may be difficult without the teeth present.

Appearance Issues

Visible gaps from missing teeth can greatly affect a person’s smile and self-confidence. The collapse or shrinkage of the cheeks from lost teeth is also visually apparent.

When to See a Dentist

You should make an appointment with your dentist right away if you notice any teeth breaking, especially at the gum line. Quick evaluation and treatment can help prevent additional complications. Seek emergency dental care if you experience:

– Severe pain
– Bleeding that won’t stop
– Swelling in the gums or face
– Difficulty breathing or swallowing

Your dentist will start by performing a clinical exam to check all your teeth and surrounding gum tissues for signs of fracture, decay, or infection. They may order dental x-rays to look for hidden problems and get a better view of the tooth roots below the gum line. Once the dentist determines the cause and extent of damage, they can come up with a tailored treatment plan. Early intervention gives you the best chance of saving fractured teeth.

Diagnosing Causes of Tooth Breakage

Diagnosing why teeth are breaking at the gum line involves a combination of:

– Dental exam to look for visible cracks, fractures, and areas of infection or decay
– Reviewing x-rays for changes in bone levels and the health of the tooth roots
– Testing individual teeth for signs of looseness or problems with the pulp
– Evaluating dental and medical history for gum disease risk factors, grinding/clenching, past dental work, and trauma
– Assessing bite alignment and forces placed on the teeth through chewing patterns and facial muscle activity
– Checking for presence of dental conditions like enamel defects that weaken overall tooth structure

Once all causes of tooth breakage have been identified, your dentist can come up with a targeted treatment plan and recommendations to prevent fractures in your remaining healthy teeth. Make sure to bring up any symptoms you’ve noticed or concerns you have about your teeth breaking during your diagnostic exam.

Treatment Options for Broken Teeth

There are several possible treatments your dentist may recommend for teeth that are cracked, fractured or breaking at the gum line:

Dental Bonding

For small cracks and fractures that don’t involve the nerve, bonding material can be applied to stabilize the affected area and prevent further damage.


Caps or crowns reinforce the remaining tooth structure and prevent fractured sections from breaking off. Crowns cover the entire tooth above the gum line.

Root Canal

If the tooth pulp nerve is damaged by a fracture, a root canal is required before placing a crown. The nerve and pulp tissue are removed and the inner canals cleaned and sealed.

Gum Grafts

Grafting gum tissue over exposed roots can add protection to vulnerable areas and prevent breakage. This is often done in conjunction with root canals and crowns.

Tooth Extraction

If the tooth is severely damaged with little salvageable structure remaining, an extraction may be necessary. Implants and bridges can be considered to replace the missing tooth.

Night Guards and Mouth Splints

Custom dental guards worn while sleeping can shield the teeth from grinding and clenching stresses that cause fractures over time.

Surgical Gum Treatment

Deep cleanings, grafting, and flap procedures can be done to treat gum disease and protect exposed roots at risk of fracture.

Follow all your dentist’s at-home care instructions carefully after treatment to avoid further tooth breakage. Regular dental cleanings and checkups are also essential for monitoring your oral health. Be sure to report any new symptoms or concerns that could signal fractures requiring additional treatment.

Home Care to Prevent Tooth Breakage

There are some proactive steps you can take on your own to help strengthen your teeth and avoid fractures:

Brush and Floss Daily

Practicing good oral hygiene minimizes the plaque that causes gum disease and subsequent tooth weakening. Brush gently using a soft or ultra-soft bristled toothbrush and avoid abrasive whitening toothpastes.

Use a Fluoride Rinse

Fluoride strengthens enamel and remineralizes areas at risk of decay. Use as directed after brushing.

Monitor Your Diet

Limit acidic and sugary foods that promote enamel erosion. Stay hydrated with plenty of water throughout the day.

Wear a Night Guard

Have your dentist make a custom night guard if you suspect clenching or grinding your teeth. This protects the teeth from excessive wear during sleep.

Quit Smoking

Smoking raises the risk of gum disease which can lead to loosening teeth and fractures. Seek help to successfully stop smoking.

Avoid Chewing Ice or Hard Objects

Chewing on pens, nails, ice, popcorn kernels or other hard items can crack the teeth or cause pieces to break off.

Prognosis for Broken Teeth

The prognosis depends on how severe the tooth fracture is and how quickly treatment is obtained:

Hairline Cracks

Very small cracks limited to the outer enamel have an excellent long-term prognosis with bonding and monitoring.

Fractures Confined to Enamel

Chipping or fracturing that affects only the enamel still allows for adequate restoration with bonding or crowns. Prognosis is good if treatment is done before pulp involvement.

Fractures Involving Pulp

Cracks extending deep enough to damage the pulp nerve have a more involved treatment process. Root canals are usually needed but teeth can still be saved.

Split Teeth

Vertical splitting of the tooth through the root as well as the crown has only a fair prognosis even with prompt treatment. The split can worsen over time.

Severe Breakage

Teeth fractured below the gum line where little tooth structure remains often need extraction. Replacement with implants or bridges are good options.

With optimal oral care and quick intervention when new fractures happen, most broken teeth can be restored and maintained for continued function. Regular visits with your dentist are key for monitoring tooth fractures.

Preventing Broken Teeth in the Future

There are a number of strategies you can discuss with your dentist to help strengthen your teeth and avoid future fractures:

Custom Night Guard

Have a night guard made to protect your teeth from clenching and grinding during sleep, which is when most fractures initiate.

Dental Bonding

Covering over small imperfections and cracks with bonding material can help prevent the fractures from worsening.

Enamel Shaping

Smoothing out uneven biting edges or small defects removes areas that concentrate excessive forces during chewing.

Dental Crowns

Crowning teeth with fractures below the gum line helps prevent breakage by covering weakened areas.

Oral Habit Training

Get counseling to stop harmful habits like nail biting, chewing on pens, or biting your cheeks that can traumatize your teeth.

Occlusal Adjustment

Rebalancing your bite with selective grinding can optimize the distribution of chewing forces on your teeth.

Gum Grafting

Grafting over exposed root surfaces prone to decay or fracture reinforces these weak areas.

Avoid Fracture-Causing Foods

Limit very hard and crunchy foods like nuts, candies, popcorn kernels, and ice. Chew carefully and use your back teeth.


Teeth breaking at the gum line is often a sign of underlying problems with dental infections, clenching, dental work failure, or tooth structure weaknesses. Seeking timely treatment is important to help stabilize fractures before more extensive damage occurs. With prompt dental intervention and good at-home oral hygiene care, prognosis for fractured teeth can be quite favorable. Partner with your dentist to determine causes and customize treatment options for repairing existing fractures while also taking preventive steps to protect your smile for the future. With vigilance and regular dental checkups, painful tooth breakage at the gum line can usually be avoided.

Leave a Comment