While losing baby teeth or primary teeth can be a fun and exciting time, having loose permanent teeth can be the exact opposite experience—even if you still believe in the tooth fairy! No one wants to lose a tooth once they are an adult, so catching the damage early and fixing the problem while it is just loose is essential. If you have an adult tooth that has become loose, fear not. As long as it is still in your jaw it is likely salvageable, but you should get to the dentist as soon as possible to get a proper diagnosis.
The first step in addressing a loose adult tooth is to figure out why it has become loose. A recent injury is the most obvious cause and also the most traumatic. If you have recently been hit in the mouth and notice a tooth or two has become loose then you should see your dentist immediately. Do not attempt to pull the tooth out or wiggle it around. If you pull out the tooth yourself you are putting the socket at risk of infection and increased bleeding. This also runs the risk of having the root or part of the tooth break off in the socket which can aggravate things even more.
If the tooth has come completely out of the socket, then save it from the environment and go immediately to an emergency dentist. If the tooth has not come out, then the case is not as urgent but you should still get to the dentist within a day or two as there may be damage at the root level and the tooth could still die if not attended to.
The non-traumatic causes of loose teeth tend to take much longer to develop and are more easily reversible once diagnosed. If you do not already wear a night guard to protect your teeth from grinding, then it is possible that you have been grinding your teeth in your sleep and have thus loosened one of them.
When you go to the dentist with a loosened tooth they will look for signs of trauma or disease. If there are no obvious symptoms of any situation which might have caused the loose tooth then they will likely suggest you might be a tooth grinder and will recommend a night guard. Once you have started wearing the night guard the stress on your tooth will lessen. The tooth will be able to settle back in and the surrounding gums and tissue should tighten up to hold the tooth firmly in place again.
The most likely reason for unexpectedly loose adult teeth is gum disease. In the early stages of gum disease, the gums become inflamed and irritated. This warning sign should be obvious to you and your dentist. If you are not a frequent brusher and have noticed bleeding and pain when brushing or flossing, you should immediately start brushing and flossing twice per day. If you are already practicing this routine but still have inflamed and bleeding gums due to gingivitis, then your dentist can recommend a treatment.
If gingivitis is allowed to progress into more serious periodontal disease, then the gums will begin to recede and eventually pull away from the root of the teeth. Since the gums are what keep the teeth firmly attached in the mouth if they start pulling away then obviously their hold on the tooth will be lessened and teeth can become loose. Gum disease that has progressed to this point not only puts the teeth at risk but also the underlying nerve and bone.
How to Care for It
In the event that you have developed a loose tooth or just had a knocked out tooth fixed, there are a few common sense ways that you should be caring for it. First and foremost, do not mess around with it. Though you might be tempted to wiggle with your finger or tongue to see how it is progressing, resist this urge. It needs to stay in place in order to allow the surrounding tissue to heal and reform properly.
Try to avoid engaging the tooth as much as possible. Eat soft foods and do not bite or chew on it until a dentist has given the okay to use it more normally. It is also important to keep it very clean and free from food debris so that nothing gets stuck in the pocket below the gumline.
The direction of the treatment for a loose tooth will depend mostly on the cause, but also on the state the tooth is in by the time the dentist can evaluate it. If the situation has progressed too far then the dentist may have no other option besides pulling it out. A root canal may also be necessary when a tooth is removed. There are several options for replacements, such as a bridge or implant. A temporary replacement, called a flipper tooth, may be recommended for aesthetic and healing reasons.
If a loose tooth can be saved then the dentist may install a splint, which is where the tooth is bonded to the teeth around it for stability. If the case is that the loose tooth was caused by reversible gum disease, the patient may get lucky and be able to get by with a deep cleaning and better general oral care. A deep cleaning performed by the dentist will involve scaling and possibly root planing. Scaling is the term for when the dentist scrapes all the hardened plaque and tartar off the visible surface of the tooth and root planing is when they use tools below the gumline that also clean and smooth the surface of the root, making it harder for the buildup to reoccur and encouraging the gum to reattach.
There is a saying attributed to Benjamin Franklin: “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This especially holds true in regards to oral health. With the exception of traumatic injury, loose adult teeth can be almost entirely prevented by simply brushing and flossing twice daily, and visiting your dentist every six months for a check-up. If there are any problems that might lead to loose teeth, the dentist should be able to catch them long before any serious damage is actually done.