Having a loose tooth as an adult can be unnerving. When one of your permanent teeth is loose, you worry that you might lose that tooth, need an expensive repair, or have an serious health problem. Permanent teeth can become loose for a variety of reasons, including injury, grinding, biting on things that are too hard, or gum disease. Not all loose permanent teeth require a visit to your dentist; however, there are a few instances in which you will need to seek help.
Slightly Loose Tooth
If the injured tooth is just slightly loose, it will usually tighten up on its own. There may be a small amount of bleeding from the gums while it heals. Avoid chewing or biting with that tooth, and stick to soft foods for a few days. Don’t wiggle it or try to move it around, except initially to reposition it if the tooth is slightly crooked. If the tooth hasn’t tightened into place on its own in a few days, see your dentist to be sure the injury wasn’t more serious than you originally thought it was.
If you grind your teeth and one or more of them is now loose, you will want to talk to your dentist as soon as possible. Grinding problems can be easily treated to protect your teeth and prevent additional injury. Your dentist will probably prescribe a mouthguard for you to wear, especially while you sleep, to keep your teeth from grinding against each other.
One of the most common causes of an unexplained loose permanent tooth is underlying gum disease. Gum disease begins as gingivitis, an infection that causes red, tender gums that bleed during brushing. If left untreated, gingivitis will eventually advance to periodontitis. Periodontitis results from a build-up of plaque on the teeth above and below the gum line. If it is not removed, plaque hardens into tartar, which irritates and destroys gum tissue. The gums bleed and begin to recede from the teeth, forming pockets that hold bacteria and worsen the infection.
If you don’t grind your teeth, and have not had an injury that would cause a tooth to become loose, you should see your dentist immediately to get an assessment on your gum health, especially if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms:
Gums that bleed during and after tooth brushing
Red, swollen, or tender gums
Persistent bad breath or bad taste in the mouth
Formation of deep pockets between teeth and gums
Loose or shifting teeth
Changes in the way teeth fit together upon biting down, or in the fit of partial dentures
Very Loose or Knocked Out Tooth
If your tooth is very loose, almost falling out, chipped, fractured, or knocked-out, you have a dental emergency and should try to see your dentist within the next couple of hours. To save the tooth, it must be put back in its socket as soon as possible (2 hours is the usual limit for tooth survival). You can do this yourself while you wait to see the dentist by following these guidelines:
Rinse off the tooth with saliva or water. Do not scrub the tooth.
Replace it in the socket facing the correct way.
Press down on the tooth with your thumb until the crown is level with the adjacent tooth.
Bite down on a wad of cloth to stabilize the tooth until you can be seen by a dentist.
If you are not able to put the tooth back in its socket, it is very important to keep the tooth moist. Do not let it dry out. You can place the tooth in saliva or milk, or use a “save a tooth” kit. A handy kit to keep at home or in your car for dental emergencies, “save a tooth” can be ordered online. If you have children in contact sports, having immediate access to such a kit can be a big help in saving a tooth during a dental emergency.
Having a loose tooth as an adult can be unnerving. It’s important to know when to see your dentist for help. Don’t wait — losing a permanent tooth is preventable if you take the right steps now.