The standard tooth restoration material is tooth-coloured composite dental resin, which is a combination of various synthetic resins. These resins achieve the necessary firmness and long-term performance that replicates a tooth's natural surface enamel. Dental resin is typically used to replace decayed tooth enamel by filling cavities. This resin is commonly called a white filling because it blends into the rest of the tooth. But this resin can be used for much more, like if you visit your dentist to have a chip in your tooth repaired.
Composite dental resin can't rebuild an entire tooth (this requires a ceramic dental crown), but it can replace a small missing fragment of a tooth, regardless of how it happened. The first step is a detailed examination of the tooth. Did the fragment chip off without warning or during regular activity (like eating)?
If the tooth chipped without an obvious cause, the enamel may already be experiencing decay, which weakens the overall structural integrity of the tooth. This generally presents as a cavity, but can also impact the biting surfaces of the tooth, causing cusps of the teeth to break. If the tooth has lost some of its mineralisation (indicating corrosion of its surface enamel), your dentist will need to take action. You may require an intensive fluoride treatment (or a series of them) to rebalance the hydroxyapatite (a type of calcium) levels in your enamel. The chip can then be repaired in the same manner as when the chip was caused by an accident.
Your dentist will simply prepare a customised dental resin mixture for your tooth, with special attention paid to colour matching. Just as with a filling, the resin must blend into the rest of the tooth's surface so that the restoration is totally invisible. A small piece of pliable resin is applied to the fractured edge of the tooth and is then manually shaped to replicate the missing section.
Once the resin has been shaped, your dentist will shine a blue light onto it, which emits a specific frequency that triggers polymerisation of the resin, so it immediately dries and hardens. Your dentist then lightly polishes the resin to give it a natural-looking finish. Unlike more complex restorations, using composite dental resin to fix minor breakages offers immediate results.
It's curious that a synthetic resin can be used to accurately recreate a broken piece of a tooth, making the tooth whole again — but this is the most efficient form of treatment for minor chips.
If you have any questions, talk to a dentist in your area.