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.
A loose tooth in adulthood doesn't occur without cause. You may initially notice looseness while brushing or flossing, or your dentist may notice some wobbling during a routine dental appointment.
In some cases, a loose tooth is due to advanced gum disease. This is when a bacterial infection attacks your gums, tissue, and surrounding bones.
Gum disease is the result of poor dental hygiene. If you don't brush or floss on a regular basis, or if you skip regular dental cleanings, tartar can build up into the space underneath your gums. This disease is treatable. If caught early, it’s possible to kill an infection, stop inflammation, and restore the health of your teeth.
If left untreated, gum disease can progress and lead to bone deterioration. Your teeth will not receive the support they need and will become loose. Early signs of gum disease include gums that bleed, are painful, or are red.
Your doctor can diagnose gum disease by examining your mouth for tartar buildup and by using a dental probe to measure your pocket depth. This is the space between your teeth and gums. Normal depth is between one and three millimeters, according to the Mayo Clinic. If your pocket depth is larger, this could indicate gum disease. Your dentist may order dental X-rays to check for bone loss.
Other causes of a loose tooth in adults may include:
- Teeth grinding. Unconsciously grinding or clenching your teeth can eventually damage your teeth and cause other complications like headaches and facial pain.
- Injury. An injury to the mouth or facial area can also cause a loose tooth. This might happen if you fall and hit your mouth or experience other force to the mouth.
Treatment begins once your doctor identifies the cause of a loose tooth. If you have gum disease, you’ll need a special dental cleaning procedure to remove hardened plaque that has accumulated underneath your teeth and gums. This is called scaling and root planing. You may also receive antibiotics to help kill any infection. Scaling removes tartar and bacteria, while root planing smooths the root surface and helps the gums reattach to the tooth.
Depending on the severity of gum disease, you might be a candidate for surgery. Options include:
- Flap surgery. Your doctor makes incisions in your gums and pulls back the gum tissue to perform a scaling and root planing procedure. Gum tissue is reattached after the procedure. This procedure can prevent tooth loss.
- Bone grafting. In cases of bone deterioration, your doctor can take fragments of bone from another area of your body or use a special bone grafting material and to repair diseased bone in your mouth. This helps support your teeth.
- Splinting. If a loose tooth hasn't detached from the guns, your doctor may be able to save the tooth using a splint. Your doctor uses a piece of metal to bond two neighboring teeth. This gives the loose tooth extra support and keeps it from moving.
- Bite adjustment. This procedure reshapes the bite surface of the tooth by removing small amounts of tooth enamel. This reduces pressure on the tooth, allowing it to heal. This is an option for a loose tooth caused by grinding.
- Mouth guard. Another option for grinding is wearing a night guard while sleeping. This creates a protective barrier between the upper and lower teeth.
A loose tooth can progress and eventually detach completely from the gums and bone. This can occur with severe gum disease or from unresolved teeth grinding. Treatment, however, can improve the health of your gums and bones. This also promotes healing and strengthens teeth.
In cases of severe looseness, your doctor may suggest removing the tooth and replacing it with a dental implant or bridge.
A loose tooth caused by trauma may not be preventable. You can reduce the risk of trauma by wearing mouth guards while playing sports.
Practicing good oral hygiene can prevent a loose tooth caused by gum disease. This includes brushing your teeth at least two or three times a day and flossing daily. You should also schedule regular dental cleanings twice a year, and speak with your dentist if you notice any changes, such as bad breath, painful gums, or bleeding gums.