Loose tooth: Causes and what to do

While a loose tooth is typical for children, noticing looseness as an adult is a cause for concern. This occurs when a tooth loses support and slowly detaches from the gums and bone. The slightest touch may cause the tooth to move, and eating or chewing can cause further loosening.

If you develop a loose tooth later in life, you may experience other symptoms as well. These include:

  • bleeding gums
  • swollen gums
  • red gums
  • gum recession

These symptoms can indicate an underlying disease, so it’s important to talk to your doctor about a loose tooth. Understanding the cause can help your doctor determine the appropriate treatment.

Causes of a loose tooth in an adult

The following factors are often responsible for looseness in one or more teeth:

Gum disease

Also known as periodontitis, this disease involves inflammation and infection of the gums. It is usually caused by poor dental hygiene habits.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States report that half of the country’s adults aged 30 or older have gum disease.

When brushing and flossing do not remove plaque, gum disease can develop. Plaque contains bacteria. It sticks to teeth and hardens over time until only a dental health professional can remove it.

Hardened plaque, known as tartar, causes the gums to pull away from the teeth, creating gaps that can become infected.

Over time, this process can break down the bone and tissue supporting the teeth, causing the teeth to become loose.

Other signs of gum disease include:

  • gums that are tender, red, painful, or swollen
  • gums that bleed when the teeth are brushed
  • gum recession
  • changes in the way the teeth fit together

Any signs of gum disease should be checked by a dentist as soon as possible. Early detection and treatment can prevent tooth loss.

Pregnancy

Raised levels of estrogen and progesterone during pregnancy can affect the bones and tissues in the mouth.

Having more of these hormones can alter the periodontium, which is the collection of bones and ligaments that support the teeth and keep them in place. When the periodontium is affected, one or more teeth may feel loose.

The changes to this part of the body will resolve after pregnancy, and they are not a cause for concern. However, anyone experiencing pain or loose teeth during pregnancy should see a dentist to rule out gum disease and other oral health problems.

It is safe for pregnant people to have dental checkups, cleanings, and X-rays, according to the American Dental Association and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

In fact, because of a possible link between gum disease and premature birth, pregnant people are encouraged to see dentists regularly.

Injury to the teeth

Healthy teeth are strong, but an impact from a blow to the face or a car accident, for example, can damage teeth and surrounding tissue. The result may be chipped or loose teeth.

Similarly, clenching the teeth during times of stress or grinding them at night can wear down the tissues and loosen the teeth.

Many people are unaware of their clenching or grinding habits until they result in jaw pain. A dentist may be able to detect the problem before the teeth are permanently damaged.

Anyone who suspects that an injury has damaged the teeth should see a dentist as soon as possible. Sports injuries, accidents, and falls, for example, can cause dental damage.

Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a disease that causes the bones to weaken and become porous. As a result, even minor bumps and impacts can lead to broken bones.

While osteoporosis commonly affects the spine, hips, and wrists, it can also damage the bones in the jaw that support the teeth.

If the jaw bones become less dense, the teeth may loosen and fall out. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the U.S. also report a possible link between bone loss and an increased risk of gum disease.

Certain medications used to treat osteoporosis can cause dental health problems, though this is uncommon. In rare cases, drugs called bisphosphonates, which help to treat bone loss, can lead to loose teeth. This is known as osteonecrosis of the jaw.

Authors of one study suggest that osteonecrosis rarely occurs in people who are taking bisphosphonates in pill form, but that the condition may develop in people who receive the medication intravenously.

Trauma and surgical procedures, such as tooth extraction, can also cause osteonecrosis.

What should I do if I lose a permanent tooth?

A knocked-out (or, in dental speak, “avulsed”) tooth is an emergency. If you don’t get help soon, it will be impossible to salvage the tooth, and the socket can become badly infected. By taking quick action, you can save both the tooth and the socket.

Here’s what you need to do:

  • Find that tooth!
  • Pick it up by the crown, not the fleshy root. If the root looks dirty, give it a quick rinse with a sterile saline solution, milk, or saliva. Don’t scrub it or touch it — you could wind up losing vital tissue.
  • As unappealing as it sounds, try to put the tooth back in its socket. Then hold it in place with gauze or a clean washcloth until you get to a dentist.
  • If the tooth won’t go back in place, put it in a glass of milk or sterile saline solution. Don’t put it in water. (Water doesn’t preserve the tooth as well, which can make it more difficult to reimplant.) You can also carry the tooth tucked between your gum and cheek until you get to the hospital or dentist’s office.
  • Get to a dentist immediately. (And don’t forget to bring the tooth!) If a dentist isn’t available, go to a hospital emergency room.

What if my child knocks out a baby tooth?

Unlike permanent teeth, baby teeth can’t be replaced. If your child knocks out a baby tooth prematurely, don’t waste any time looking for it. Instead, comfort your child and help her rinse her mouth out with cold water. Then call a pediatric dentist right away. The dentist won’t be able to save the tooth, but he can give your child pain relievers to make her feel better, and antibiotics to prevent an infection. Your child may also need a spacer, a device that keeps the other teeth from crowding into the newly formed gap. This gives future permanent teeth room to grow.

If my tooth isn’t knocked out but just loosened, should I still see a dentist?

It’s a good idea. Even if the accident left you with only a loose tooth, a dentist’s attention can help reduce the risk that the tooth will die or fall out later.

How can I keep my teeth where they belong?

Sports injuries are a leading cause of knocked-out teeth. If you or your child play any sport with a risk of falls or blows to the face, helmets, face masks, and mouth guards should be standard equipment. According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, that list includes football, basketball, baseball, soccer, hockey, skateboarding, gymnastics, and martial arts. If store-bought mouthguards aren’t comfortable, you can get a customized one from your dentist.

Resourses:

healthline.com

healthday.com

medicalnewstoday.com

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