Maybe you got too excited chomping down on peanut brittle. Maybe you tipped your wine glass just a little too far back and nicked one of your front teeth. Or, maybe you're like me and slipped and fell on some ice (while maybe not completely sober). However it happened, you now have a chipped tooth.
It may be a small enough chip that only your mother would notice, or it could be more serious than that, like a Dumb & Dumber-sized gaping hole. But whatever it is and however it happened, it's important to know that you are far from alone — lots of people chip their teeth. In fact, cosmetic dentist Michael Apa, DDS, of Apa Rosenthal Group, says more than 50% of his patients come in seeking restorative work, which includes things like tooth trauma. "A lot of times people fall on their face, slipping and falling," Dr. Apa says. "Once the winter starts and there's ice on the ground, this starts happening."
The most important thing to do in the minutes after you fall (besides going to the hospital if you need to), is scheduling an appointment with your dentist — whether it's a major chip or a minor one. That's because, if you don't fix a chip right away, it can worsen — similar to how a shattered car windshield is more susceptible to cracking. So you'll want to book an emergency appointment with your dentist, and in the meantime, stay with a soft diet. "In the initial few days after any type of trauma to the tooth, especially if it chips, it can be sensitive, so you want to allow the tooth and the gums to rest as much as possible," cosmetic dentist Lawrence Fung, DDS, of Silicon Beach Dental says.
Sadly, that's not what I did. I waited and waited and waited — until I was walking around with this chip in my right front tooth for five years. (I know! I'm bad!) "Teeth are living organisms in your body," Apa says. "They have nerves and blood supply. The best thing to do is to take care of that tooth, and protect it, the fastest you can." If you have a serious chip and don't go to a professional in the next few days, then you may be faced with what's grimly called a "dead tooth," which happens when the nerves inside of the body lose blood flow and effectively die. And the longer you wait, the higher the chance that the tooth can further fracture.
This fall, after realizing I wasn't doing myself any favors running around with a chipped front tooth, I finally decided to do something about the chip. Follow my process, and find the best option for you, ahead.
Before we talk about me, know that after you chip your tooth, you're likely going to be presented with two options to fix it. The first is bonding, a practice most dentists can do easily and effectively, which makes it the most common and inexpensive solution to fixing minor chips. "Bonding uses a plastic material that you tack onto the tooth, [which you then] shape and harden with a light," Apa says. "You don’t have to get numb for it; there's no pain." It's also a procedure that can be done immediately and quickly, as long as the dentist has the right materials at that time.
The cost of bonding can range from a few hundred up to $750, depending on your dentist, and cosmetic procedures like these aren't usually covered by insurance. "I always tell patients to look at dental insurance as a coupon that has a finite limit, and there is always fine print to read in regards to what the coupon can and cannot be used for," says Dr. Fung, who charges between $450 and $750 per tooth for bonding. "If insurance does cover cosmetic procedures, it may cover a portion, but never a full amount."
The one major downside of bonding is that it's sometimes very difficult to make the plastic material match the tooth. Often, the material is grayer than the tooth itself and more susceptible to staining. So if it is a large area you're getting bonded or the crack is highly visible in your smile, then bonding might not be the absolute best option. Because my chip was in my front tooth, Dr. Apa and I decided that a veneer was a better option.
When Dr. Apa suggested veneers, I immediately thought of the opaque smiles of Bachelorette contestants and one Pete Davidson. But if you just chip one or two teeth, it's not like you're going to be going in and getting a full mouth of veneers. What most dentists will do is target those chips with a partial porcelain veneer, which is basically a tiny tooth-shaped cover that fills in the chip and protects the tooth under it, too.
Most dentists prefer veneers for these sorts of fixes because they tend to last much longer than bonding. Whereas bonding might only last a handful of years, a veneer's lifespan is closer to 10 years, and it's more resistant to staining as well — but that all depends on how you take care of it. "It’s not the material lifespan, it’s the environment you put it into," says Dr. Apa. "If you're grinding and constantly touching your teeth, it's going to weaken."
Given all those facts, of course, they are more expensive. Dr. Apa charges $3,500 for a single veneer, and Dr. Fung starts his veneers at $1,600. Both credit the technology used to create the veneers, which can involve 3-D printing and high-quality materials like fine porcelain, for the steep price.
Meet My Veneer
In my case, Dr. Apa suggested bonding for the tiny indent in the middle of my left tooth (since it was so minor) and a veneer for the more substantial chip in my right tooth. And so his team got to work, taking a mold of all my teeth, which would be used to create the veneer, and then snapping what felt like hundreds of pictures to make sure they could create a veneer that matched the color of my tooth exactly. They also took X-rays to study my bite and make sure my tooth wasn't too severely damaged or cracked from the fall five years ago. (Thankfully, it wasn't.)
Two weeks later, I was back in Dr. Apa's office where he showed me the tiny veneer that would be going over my tooth: a piece of minuscule, delicate porcelain, which you can see above.
My Veneer Experience
Sitting in a chair in his office, I wasn't sure what to expect next. Would there be drilling? Would there be a weird smell? Would it sound like he was grinding my teeth into nothing? Would it hurt? The short answer: not even a little bit. He didn't administer any sort of numbing, but instead passed me a pair of protective glasses so that I could watch the first 15 minutes of Oceans 8 while Dr. Apa and a dental assistant worked their magic.
For the procedure, they polished the front of my right tooth, placed the veneer to make sure it was the right fit and color, and then (for lack of a better term) glued the veneer to my tooth with a special cement. Then, Dr. Apa placed a special light beam against my tooth and the veneer to activate the chemicals in the cement, causing it to quickly harden in place. In a matter of minutes, it was all over.
As for the bonding of that indent in my left tooth, which actually grew in like that, it was also painless. He simply tacked the sticky composite material to my tooth, shaped it so it blended right in, and used a curing light to harden that as well.
For a final step, Dr. Apa made sure the veneer was as flush with my tooth as possible and that my bottom teeth weren't hitting the back of the veneer at all. Leaving the office, all I felt was some rougher residue from the bonding material on the back of my teeth, which disappeared in a matter of days. Of course, I wasn't trying to bite right into an apple immediately after, but I did have a bagel a few hours later with no worries.
Since then, I have tried to drink coffee with a straw and switch from drinking red wine to white — all to prevent staining the veneers and bonding. I've also felt more comfortable smiling wide for cameras and showing off my now nearly identical two front teeth, which is a side effect I didn't expect. Apparently, there was some subconscious insecurity about my teeth that is now gone. Even other people have noticed how I smile easier now, which is just about the best compliment you can get. All I can think about now is why in the hell it took me so long to finally get that chip fixed. Lesson learned.
This procedure was provided to the author by Apa Rosenthal Group for the purpose of writing this story.