Loose Adult Tooth: Causes, What To Do, & Treatments
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
teethtalkgirl content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or medical doctor to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. Gum (Periodontal) Disease Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. NaN Available at: https://www.nidcr.nih.gov/health-info/gum-disease/more-info. October 1, 2020 Mayo Clinic. Periodontitis.. Mayo Clinic. NaN Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/periodontitis/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20354479. October 1, 2020 American Association of Endodontists. Tooth Pain. American Association of Endodontists. NaN Available at: https://www.aae.org/patients/dental-symptoms/tooth-pain/. October 1, 2020 Harvard Health. Two options for replacing lost teeth. Harvard Health. NaN Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/oral-health/two-options-for-replacing-lost-teeth. October 1, 2020 Mayo Clinic. Tooth loss: First aid. Mayo Clinic. NaN Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/first-aid/first-aid-tooth-loss/basics/art-20056635. October 1, 2020