Having a loose tooth when you’re a kid can be exciting because it means a visit from the tooth fairy—but when you’re an adult, a loose tooth is much more worrisome. After all, your permanent teeth are supposed to be, well, permanent, right? So what causes adult teeth to become loose, and is there a way to prevent them from falling out?
Having loose permanent teeth is actually a common problem that can affect anyone of any age. The good news is that in most cases, the loose tooth can be saved, but it won’t get better on its own. If you have a wiggly tooth, make an appointment with an experienced dentist as soon as possible.
What can cause a loose adult tooth?
Generally speaking, teeth do not fall out by themselves. There are a number of both internal and external factors that can lead to a loose adult tooth. Common causes include poor dental health, oral trauma of any kind, and underlying conditions.
Dental trauma due to a fall, sports injury, or another accident is one of the most common causes of loose adult teeth. Some traumatic injuries may heal on their own, but it’s important to see a dentist right away to make sure the root of the tooth and surrounding gums haven’t been damaged.
- Gum Disease
If your tooth has become loose for seemingly no reason, it’s very likely that periodontitis is the cause. More commonly known as gum disease, periodontitis is a bacterial infection that wears away at the gums, soft tissue, and bone surrounding your teeth. As the disease progresses, it can cause your gums to rescind and your permanent teeth to become loose. Other symptoms of advanced gum disease include bad breath, bleeding gums when you floss, and gums that are swollen and sensitive to touch.
Frequently clenching or grinding your teeth due to stress, a condition known as bruxism, can also cause your teeth to become loose over time. Many people grind their teeth at night without realizing it.
- Pregnancy and Menopause
Changes in your hormones during pregnancy or menopause can also affect your dental health. Higher levels of estrogen and progesterone during pregnancy can cause ligaments and bones in the jaw to loosen, but these changes are only temporary.
During menopause, the opposite happens—the body starts to produce less estrogen, which can lead to bone density loss. As the jawbone becomes weaker, it increases the risk of loose teeth.
- Medications & Underlying Conditions
You’ve probably heard that calcium builds strong bones, but it’s also important for strong and healthy teeth. Certain medications, including anti-seizure medications like phenytoin (Dilantin®), may make it more difficult for the body to absorb calcium—when these medications are taken regularly over a long period of time, it can cause the teeth to weaken and become loose.
Many common medications, like contraceptives, antidepressants, and pain relievers have dry mouth as a potential side effect, which can increase the risk of tooth decay.
Even if you suspect your medication may be the cause of your loose adult tooth, don’t stop taking any medications without talking with your doctor first.
Certain underlying health conditions can also increase your risk of developing gum disease, a common cause of loose teeth. These include:
When is a loose adult tooth an emergency?
Ideally, you should schedule an examination with your dentist as soon as you notice that an adult tooth has become loose. If left alone, the condition can gradually worsen and cause damage to the root and gums, which can lead to infection. Contact your dentist immediately if you notice any of the following symptoms develop:
- An extreme toothache
- Sores on your tongue or lips
- Changes in shape, color, or swelling of the gums
- Bleeding gums when biting or pressing your gums
- The appearance of pus in your mouth
- Darkened tooth enamel
- Unnatural tooth mobility or numb tooth
- Consistent headaches
Treatment Options for Loose Adult Teeth
Depending on the severity of the issue and how early it’s caught, there are multiple ways a dentist can help save a loose adult tooth.
- Splinting: If the tooth is loose due to injury, your dentist may try to splint the tooth. Splinting involves bonding the loose tooth to the surrounding teeth to help secure it. It is a temporary fix since composite bonding doesn’t last very long.
- Deep Cleaning: If a tooth is loose due to poor dental hygiene and/or gum disease, your dentist may try to save the tooth through the means of a deep cleaning. During a deep cleaning, a dental hygienist will remove the infection that has grown into the gumline, causing the gums to recede. Once the infection is cleared, there’s a good possibility that the gums will heal and tighten up around the tooth.
- Tissue and bone grafting: Involves synthetic or natural bone placement around the weakened root to help regenerate new bone and gum tissue. This procedure is common when periodontal disease is present, which weakens the bone surrounding the diseased gum.
- Flap surgery: Done to eliminate the calculus that has accumulated in the gum’s deep pockets, making cleaning easier. During the procedure, a person’s gum is back-lifted to remove tartar and repositioned back in place. If all goes well and the procedure is a success, your gums will have a tight fit around your teeth.
- Guided-tissue regeneration (GTR): This surgical procedure adopts the use of barrier membranes, which encourage tissue regeneration where they were destroyed by periodontitis.
If the tooth cannot be saved, it may need to be extracted and replaced with a dental implant.
How to Prevent Loose Adult Teeth
The idea of a wiggly adult tooth may be worrisome, but there are some easy ways to lower your risk of developing loose teeth.
- Practice good oral hygiene. It may seem like a no-brainer, but the importance of good daily oral hygiene cannot be stressed enough. Brushing for two minutes at least twice a day and flossing daily can go a long way to protecting your dental health.
- Go in for a professional cleaning every 6 months. While brushing at home is essential, it’s no replacement for a professional cleaning. In addition to being more thorough, a professional cleaning also gives your dentist a chance to catch oral health problems early.
- Avoid tobacco products. Smoking or chewing tobacco regularly is one of the leading causes of gum disease in the US. Cutting out tobacco can significantly reduce your risk of both gum disease and oral cancer.
- Take steps to reduce damage from teeth grinding (bruxism). If you frequently grind or clench your teeth, a bite splint (also called a dental guard or a night guard) can help protect your teeth from damage.
- Wear a mouthguard when you play contact sports to protect your teeth.
- Stay hydrated to prevent dry mouth.
Schedule an Appointment at Muscaro and Martini Dentistry
If you’re worried about a wiggling tooth, the oral health experts at Muscaro & Martini Cosmetic Dentistry can help. Patients can schedule an appointment online or call us at (813) 839-6999.