Accurate diagnosis of a cracked/fractured root is a difficult task. It is important to get it right, because the treatment for a cracked root is usually extraction. I explain to patients that there are some clinical signs that would indicate a cracked root, but they are not 100% conclusive all the time. These same clinical signs can occur in other situations as well.
The typical signs associated with a cracked/fracture root that we have previously reported:
1. J-shaped lesion or large lateral lesion
2. Deep, narrow periodontal pocket
A couple new clinical signs that I have not previously reported include:
3. Swelling in the in the marginal gingival, adjacent to the fracture
4. Failure of a swelling to resolve despite a course of antibiotics
The more of these clinical signs I see in one patient, the more confident I am that the root is cracked/fractured.
I explain to patients that the only way to know with certainty is to visualize the crack. This is most effectively done with magnification. This can either be done through an endodontic access, or through a small periodontal flap to examine the root surface. I expect that with time, CBCT will be better able to help us in the diagnosis of cracked/fractured roots. At this time, the CBCT does not appear pick up on a cracked/fractured root until the pieces of the root begin to separate.
Here is an example of a case in which several of the described clinical signs were present indicating a cracked/fractured root. Access and visualization confirmed the diagnosis of cracked root.
Pt presents with a swelling in the marginal gingiva adjacent to distal root of #19. The radiograph shows a large, lateral lesion on mesial of distal root. Patient had been taking Penicillin for several days, without resolution of the swelling. Antibiotic was changed to clindamycin to see if swelling would resolve.
Swelling did not resolve after taking clindamycin.
At this point, I am quite certain I will find a cracked root. If this were simply a perio issue or an endo issue, I would have expected it to clear up with the antibiotics.
Access into pulp chamber exposes a vertical crack/fracture on the MB root as well as the DB root.
The tooth is deemed non-restorable and extraction recommended.
If you are unsure if a tooth has a cracked/fractured root, contact your endodontist. Not all teeth can be saved, but endodontists are the specialists for saving teeth and can help you determine which ones to save.