You may have noticed small vertical cracks in your teeth. You may be worried that this is a sign that your teeth are becoming seriously damaged, and that may be true. On the other hand, it may be that what you’re seeing is craze lines, which are tiny cracks in teeth that are unattractive, but aren’t a threat to your teeth.
Causes of Craze Lines
People cite many potential causes of craze lines. The most common cause is excessive bite force. This can be the result of teeth clenching during the day or at night, or parafunctions like biting your fingernails. It can be an early sign that you’re at risk for TMJ.
Another potential cause of craze lines is sudden temperature transitions, like, for example, washing down hot pizza with cold beer. This causes your teeth to contract and expand, but, as we talked about when we mentioned percolation, it doesn’t expand or contract quickly or easily. This can put stress on the tooth enamel, causing it to break. If you’ve ever taken a hot glass baking dish and put it in a sink full of cold water, you’ve seen this phenomenon. It’s also the same thing that makes ice cubes crack when you drop them in water.
Tooth trauma can also cause craze lines. Contact sports, falls, accidents, and violence have all been linked to craze lines. You can also cause craze lines when you use your teeth to bite on nonfood objects. Maybe you’re a nervous chewer who chews on pen tops or your fingernails. Perhaps you use your teeth as tools to open packages or bottles. Your teeth aren’t nutcrackers or bottle openers! Nor are they icebreakers–don’t chew on ice!
Craze Lines vs. Cracked Teeth
Although craze lines are technically cracks in your teeth, it’s not what we mean when we describe a “cracked tooth.” Instead, a cracked tooth penetrates through the enamel into the dentin or even into the tooth nerve. These can be dangerous, because they allow bacteria to penetrate into the tooth, causing decay or infection. They also structurally weaken the tooth, which can cause it to break in half.
Craze lines, on the other hand, are cracks that stop in the enamel, and they may not develop any further. Our enamel is actually very remarkable for its ability to stop cracks once they have started–cracks can actually make your enamel harder.
So how do you know the difference? Your dentist will evaluate them as part of your regular checkup. If you experience sensitivity associated with cracks in your teeth–it could be sensitivity to temperature, sensitivity to pressure, or just spontaneous pain in your teeth, then you need to have them looked at as soon as possible. You should also talk to your dentist if you notice that the cracks seem to be getting larger, or if decay seems to develop along them.
For many people, craze lines run in the family. If your parents had craze lines but never any related problems, you might not, either.
Getting Rid of Craze Lines
But even if craze lines aren’t threatening your teeth, they can look unattractive. The cracks themselves can be unattractive. Initially subtle, they also tend to accumulate stains from foods, beverages, and smoking.
Even if these run in the family, there are ways to take care of them. Teeth whitening is a good place to start. Many people only notice these small lines because they trap stains. But if teeth whitening doesn’t work, we can use tooth-colored filling material (also called cosmetic bonding) to cover up craze lines.
Of course, the best and longest-lasting results are achieved with porcelain veneers, which can give you a beautiful smile without cracks. The only concern is that we will want to make sure to resolve parafunctions, TMJ, or bruxism to make sure your porcelain veneers aren’t damaged the way your teeth were.