Baby teeth typically become loose and are replaced with adult teeth during childhood. This is a normal part of growth and development. When adult teeth become loose, it's a problem. Conditions that cause loosening of the adult teeth affect either the teeth themselves or the bone and tiny ligament fibers that keep each tooth strongly rooted in the mouth. Once these structures are compromised, how loose the teeth are depends on the severity of the condition.
Periodontal Disease and Infection
Periodontal disease is a gum disease that damages the supporting structures of the teeth. Normally, there are a few millimeters of space between a tooth and the healthy surrounding gums. Toothbrush bristles and floss can sweep into these small spaces to keep them clean. When periodontal disease is active, these spaces become deeper pockets where bacteria becomes trapped. These pockets are too deep for normal tooth brushing to effectively clean.
The inflammation caused by these bacteria and plaque deposits leads to the destruction of the bone and fibers that hold the teeth in place. This is a progressive cycle of inflammation and bone destruction that requires professional treatment. Once this process is underway, the teeth can become loose and uncomfortable. Affected teeth may fall out on their own or need to be extracted because they no longer have enough bone support to keep them stable in the mouth.
An infection of 1 or more teeth in the mouth can also cause inflammation and destruction, leading to loosening of teeth. Infections of this nature can be a result of deep untreated cavities, untreated periodontal disease or broken teeth.
If teeth are consistently subjected to traumatic forces, they can become loose over time. Examples of heavy traumatic forces include tooth grinding or clenching. If just 1 tooth is receiving substantially more force than those around it, that tooth may become loose. Orthodontic treatment also exerts forces on the teeth, resulting in the mobility that allows the teeth to be moved into alignment.
Injury and Fractures
Traumatic injuries can displace a tooth within its socket in a number of different directions. This change in position can fracture the bone around the tooth and damage the fibers that hold the tooth in place. If the root of the tooth is fractured, the portion of the tooth that is exposed in the mouth may become loose.
Several conditions can lead to bone lesions in the jaws. These bone lesions can destroy bone or expand it and make the jaw appear larger. Bone lesions displace or loosen teeth and may be linked to tumors and certain types of cancer, such as lymphoma and leukemia. Oral cancer screenings performed at regular dental checkups and physical exams performed by a medical doctor can help identify benign and malignant tumors.
What To Do
If you are concerned about loose teeth, your dentist can assess your situation and guide you toward appropriate treatments, if needed. Seeing your dentist for regular checkups, combined with good home care and vigilance, are the best ways to maintain a strong and healthy smile.