Loose Adult Tooth: Causes, What To Do, & Treatments

woman with loose front tooth

Depending on who you ask and what demographic you’re looking at, tooth loss affects anywhere from 1/4 to 2/3 of adults. The older you are, the more likely you are to experience having a loose adult tooth. Fortunately, there’s access to better preventative dental care today than a few decades ago, making it easier to retain your teeth as long as possible.

All of that said, you or someone you know will likely experience having a loose adult tooth at some point. Knowing what’s normal and what isn’t (such as loose teeth during pregnancy) can help you be better prepared to care for your smile and overall health.

Why Do My Teeth Feel Loose Suddenly 

Any time you have a loose adult tooth, not a baby tooth – you should be concerned. If one tooth is suddenly loose, the one next to it is also at risk. Shrinking gum tissue and bone support around specific teeth may cause certain ones to get loose first, but the loss of supporting structures is a gradual chain reaction that can spread throughout your mouth and neighboring teeth.

If you’re typically young and healthy or are experiencing loose teeth during pregnancy, you ought to be especially concerned.

Causes Of A Loose Adult Tooth

Some of the most common causes of loose teeth are due to improper oral hygiene habits. Others are due to factors outside of your control. Tooth mobility and sore teeth can be attributed to different scenarios, each of which requires a different approach to treatment. As long as you intervene early enough, it might be possible to avoid losing your tooth altogether.

1) Gum Disease 

Periodontal disease or gum disease is the leading cause of loose teeth and adult tooth loss. The infection destroys the attachments around your tooth roots, which provide stability and support on a day to day basis. As the infection becomes more severe, the worse the bone support becomes. Fortunately, gum disease is a preventable condition. Good daily home hygiene and routine checkups can halt the spread of periodontal infections and reverse the earliest stages of gingivitis.

Symptoms

Early symptoms of gum disease include gum recession, sore gums, bleeding when you brush and floss, bad breath, and tartar buildup. When your dentist takes X-rays, they’ll be able to see bone loss on your films. The hygienist might also tell you there are “deep pockets” around your teeth, indicating gum tissue detachment. In severe scenarios, tooth mobility and loss will occur.[1]

2) Teeth Grinding 

Bruxism (grinding or clenching) places severe amounts of tension on your teeth and the tiny periodontal ligaments around their roots. The constant pressing, pushing, and straining can lead to the ligaments getting bruised and sore. In rare cases, you might even notice a loose tooth when you bite down to eat something.

Symptoms

Bruxism is best characterized by symptoms like worn, flat, or chipped tooth enamel. Broken dental work is also common. You might also notice TMJ pain or difficulty opening and closing. With severe grinding, mild tooth mobility will occasionally occur. If you suffer from teeth grinding, I always recommend a night guard! 

3) Pregnancy

Some women say that the first time they ever experience dental problems is when they’re expecting. This could be due to additional acids from nausea/vomiting or changes in their diet or poor dental hygiene habits. However, loose teeth during pregnancy is not a normal or healthy pregnancy symptom. It’s a serious condition that could potentially mean you’re at a greater risk of pre-eclampsia, pre-term labor, and stillbirth.

Symptoms

If you notice loose teeth during pregnancy, it’s likely that you have some type of undiagnosed infection or cyst. Periodontal or gum disease can tend to “flare up” when there are hormonal changes, but there shouldn’t be a sudden onset of tooth mobility. Let your dentist know if you’re experiencing any pain, swelling, gum recession, or bleeding when you brush and floss.

4) Trauma/Injury 

Traumatic injuries such as automobile accidents and sporting injuries (a blow to the mouth with a baseball, hitting yourself with your knee when you’re on the trampoline, etc.) are some of the most common causes of loose permanent teeth. If you’re someone who happens to have jetted-out front teeth or are involved in contact sports, you are probably at a higher risk of these types of orofacial injuries.

NOTE: It’s extremely important to invest in a sports mouthguard and wear it regularly if you’re involved in activities that call for other types of protective equipment. If you’re wearing a helmet or pads, a mouthguard is probably beneficial as well. A large percentage of sporting injuries are isolated to the face and mouth (especially in children.) And on that note, a professionally fitted mouthpiece will provide a better level of protection than what you can buy at a drugstore.

Symptoms

Traumatic tooth injuries typically knock one or two teeth loose in the immediate area the blow took place. The gums surrounding those teeth may take on a bruised or swollen appearance. Lip lacerations and bleeding are common. An X-ray can show whether a root fracture occurred. Tooth death and gradual darkening may occur over the next several months or years.

5) Cysts Or Tumors

In rare situations there can be cysts inside of your jawbone, causing deterioration of the supporting structures immediately surrounding that area. Although this condition is quite rare, it’s not to be ruled out.

Symptoms

A sudden, unexpected loose tooth in an otherwise healthy smile. Especially in adult teeth. A panoramic X-ray is usually required to evaluate the full extent of your mandible (jawbone) and surrounding facial structures to rule out an undiagnosed atypical growth.

6) Tobacco Use

Smoking and smokeless tobacco may cause irritation to supporting gum tissues, leading to loose teeth in adults. Especially in areas where smokeless tobacco (snuff) is repeatedly held in place.

Symptoms

Snuff users will generally see receding gumlines where they hold the tobacco. The roots of teeth may gradually become exposed. For smokers, the tobacco products generally cover up typical gum disease symptoms, allowing periodontal infections to worsen without the normal visible signs.

Will A Loose Tooth Tighten Back Up?

It depends. If the loose tooth is due to strained periodontal ligaments (those tiny little fibers that stretch between the root of your tooth and the gum tissues around it), splinting your tooth for several weeks can help. Especially if there was an injury to your mouth.

Permanent teeth that are loose because of gum disease typically only tighten back up if the gum pocket isn’t too deep. Or you may need an additional bone graft near the root to provide additional support. Without a healthy, solid foundation, it’s impossible for the tooth to tighten back up.[2]

What Should You Do If A Permanent Tooth Feels Loose?

First and foremost, call your dentist. It’s not ever “normal” or healthy to have a loose adult tooth or loose teeth during pregnancy. After a professional evaluation you’ll have the information you need to understand what the cause of mobility is and take steps to prevent it from getting any worse.

In the meantime, resist the urge to push on or wiggle your tooth to see how loose it really is. Applying unnecessary pressure could further loosen your tooth and make it harder to retain. Try to avoid eating on that side of your mouth until your dentist gives you professional advice on what to do.[3]

Is It Normal For Teeth To Move Slightly?

Yes. That’s what makes it possible to move your teeth with orthodontic appliances or braces. The tiny ligaments that connect your tooth to the supporting structures around it provide some “flex” or “bounce” to your tooth every time you chew. However: that flexing and movement is usually going to be so minor that it’s impossible to see it with your eyes. Any time there’s a loose adult tooth that you can visibly see moving back and forth, you need to be concerned.

Loose Tooth Treatment Options 

Loose teeth in adults are not healthy teeth (unless of course we’re talking about baby teeth that need to fall out). If you notice mobility in certain areas of your bite, it’s not a matter of if you need treatment but rather which type of dental care is most appropriate.[4] Depending on the underlying cause of your loose teeth, one of the following therapies may be best:

1) Deep Cleaning 

A deep cleaning or “periodontal therapy”, these special dental cleanings reach well below the gums to thoroughly remove the bacterial deposits that destroy the connective tissues around your tooth roots. Deep cleanings or "scaling and root planing" help to halt the gum disease process and get your smile back on track to recovery.

2) Flap Surgery

If your gum disease is severe, a periodontist (gum specialist) may need to retract your gum tissues in order to access deeper areas around your roots. A thorough cleaning and pocket reduction is performed by reattaching the gingiva back onto the tooth, sometimes at a lower level (making it easier to floss around your teeth.)

3) Bone Grafting

Bone augmentation is a procedure where a small graft is placed in specific areas of atypical bone loss. Grafting is most effective in spaces where teeth are at-risk for mobility or already loose. Gradually the graft is absorbed by the body and it starts to reinforce the jaw in that particular space.

4) Splinting

Traumatized teeth that are knocked loose are typically splinted next to their neighbors until they re-stabilize. Splinting is temporary but may require up to a few months to see results. A semi-permanent material is attached to the tooth and its adjacent teeth and removed at a later date.

5) Bite Adjustment

Reducing the occlusal (biting) points on a tooth can cut back on how much pressure is applied throughout the day. That way the tooth isn’t constantly re-traumatized each time you bite down on it.

6) Night Guard or Mouthguard

People with bruxing (clenching and grinding) habits often do so subconsciously. Sleeping in a night guard or wearing a protective bite splint during the day can train your jaws to relax and reduce the wear on your teeth.

When To See A Doctor 

If you have loose adult teeth or are suddenly experiencing loose teeth during pregnancy, seek dental care soon as possible. Loose teeth do not get better on their own, so please don’t try to wait it out and hope it improves in the meantime. Tooth mobility will only continue to get worse and can involve other teeth depending on how severe the case is. Even if you suspect that the mobility is almost too slight to notice, it’s best to catch the issue as soon as possible. Otherwise you could be facing unwanted tooth loss.[5]

Overcoming A Loose Tooth 

If you have a loose adult tooth, you need to see a dentist. A loose tooth can be due to anything from accidental trauma to aggressive gum disease. Bottom line, a dentist is the only person who can help you avoid losing the tooth (if it’s even an option.) Don’t wait to see if the symptoms get worse. Waiting will only lead to bigger (and costlier) problems, no matter the reasons behind your tooth mobility.