As a child, feeling a loose tooth can be exciting. It typically means that a baby tooth is about to fall out and make way for its permanent replacement—a step closer to growing up. As an adult, however, looseness can be unsettling, since adult teeth don’t have replacements under them waiting to spring up when one is lost. Luckily, loose teeth don’t always fall out, especially if you seek treatment and address the problem before it’s too late to save them.
A healthy tooth isn’t completely rigid. The tooth’s root rests inside of a socket in the jawbone, where it’s held in place by a semi-elastic periodontal ligament, and the slight mobility allows teeth to more effectively absorb pressure. If a tooth visibly moves around in its socket, then it’s considered loose. A traumatic injury can directly damage the ligament, as can excessive pressure from bruxism (teeth-grinding) or malocclusion (crooked teeth). An abscess on an infected tooth can also damage the jawbone and tissues around it, requiring immediate treatment to save your tooth and your oral health.
Periodontal disease, or gum disease, is the most common reason for loose teeth. In fact, it’s also the leading cause of adult tooth loss in the United States. Famous for the swelling and redness (inflammation) that marks its existence, gum disease also targets the jawbone underneath your gums when it’s allowed to progress. By destroying the gums and jawbone that support them, advanced gum disease causes your teeth to loosen in their sockets. If not treated, the disease will render your mouth unable to retain all of its natural teeth.
Whether you’re smile is in the grips of gum disease, a tooth infection, or a dental injury, a loose tooth is salvageable if you seek professional treatment as soon as possible. Treating gum disease may give your gums time to heal, “tightening” their grip on your teeth before the infection becomes severe enough to require a tooth extraction. If a loose tooth can’t be saved, then your dentist may recommend replacing it with an implant-supported dental crown. The dental implant can be inserted into the jawbone to replace the tooth’s root, allowing the jawbone to fuse to its surface for lifelike support.