Loose teeth in adults can happen for a couple of different reasons, and in most cases finding effective treatments is very closely related to figuring out what caused the problem in the first place. Gum disease and other mouth infections can cause looseness, particularly if the gums have begun to recede. Oral health specialists are often able to rebuild the base of teeth in these situations, which can help them tighten up again more or less on their own. People who grind their teeth may find that using a mouth guard, particularly at night, is the best treatment, whereas a person who has looseness as a result of an accident or trauma may need a temporary splint to help support healing and re-growth. In extreme cases, experts sometimes recommend surgery to improve the root structure, or implants if loose teeth look like they’re going to fall out. These solutions are usually considered last resorts and are very invasive.
Why Loose Teeth Happen
Loose teeth are often indicative of a serious dental issue in adults, and should usually be evaluated by a dentist or orthodontist as soon as possible to improve the likelihood of saving the tooth or teeth in question. Periodontal disease, which is also known as gingivitis, is the most common cause of loose teeth in adults. Gingivitis is a swelling of the gums caused by a build-up of plaque, a hardened coating of bacteria. If left untreated, the gums begin to recede and are no longer able to support the teeth, thus causing them to become loose.
People who grind their teeth are also at risk for looseness. Tooth grinding is known medically as bruxism, and is often something people do subconsciously — frequently in their sleep or in moments of stress or anxiety. Looseness can also happen as a result of trauma, usually when a person is struck in the face. Sometimes teeth are actually knocked out, and this requires its own sort of treatment in most cases. Simple looseness can often be healed, though it takes time and careful planning. The first step to effective treatment is diagnosing the problem, then charting out a way forward.
Scaling and Planing
Brushing and flossing at least twice a day are the best ways for most people to prevent gingivitis, but these methods aren’t usually enough to treat loose teeth once they happen. Scaling and root planing are two of the most common methods for helping strengthen the roots of teeth that have become weakened due to disease. Scaling is the process of scraping off the plaque at the tooth base and the root. Root planing, by contrast, is a deeper cleaning that removes a part of the dentin, or surface of the root which has been pervaded by the plaque. Both are normally done together in a dentist or oral surgeon’s office. If the patient keeps the teeth clean by regularly brushing and flossing after undergoing these procedures, the gums will in most cases heal and the teeth will tighten up within a few weeks.
Mouth guards are of the most common treatments for looseness caused by grinding. Mouth guards are generally soft, protective mouthpieces that encase the teeth to prevent contact between the top and bottom rows. These protective guards are usually available in three different types: stock mouth guards, boil-to-fit mouth protectors, and custom-fitted molds.
Stock protectors are the least expensive form of protection and typically come prepackaged with little room for adjustment. Boil alternatives are a little bit more customized. These protectors can be heated in hot water and then formed to the teeth by applying pressure. Custom-fitted mouth protectors tend to be the most effective, but they are also usually the most expensive, and in most cases have to be made by a dentist. First, an impression or model is made of the teeth and then the mouth guard is fitted to the impression. People suffering from chronic bruxism often find this option the most effective, and in these cases the investment is often worth it.
Loose teeth due to trauma are some of the hardest to treat, since so much depends on the extent and origin of the problem. In many cases, if the patient avoids the loose tooth while chewing and refrains from activities that may cause further injury, the tooth will tighten back up in a few weeks. If the blow is bad enough, though, a dentist may need to design a splint.
A tooth splint is usually made from a composite-resin material and wire, and it links the loose tooth to adjacent, tightly anchored and otherwise healthy teeth. This stabilizes the loose tooth while the gum tissue strengthens around the root. The length of time a splint must be kept in place varies, but is typically between a few weeks and a few months.
Surgery and Implants
Teeth that do not tighten up on their own or that don’t respond to splints, planing, and mouth guarding may need to be fixed surgically. Oral surgeons are often able to augment tooth roots from the inside, or they may recommend simply removing the problem tooth and replacing it with an implant. Implants usually look like real teeth, but are made of durable plastics or resins that screw into the jaw. Implants aren’t usually recommended unless loose teeth are a serious medical or aesthetic issue for a person, since the process is invasive and also typically quite expensive.