A loose permanent tooth isn’t normal — it represents a serious threat to the tooth’s survival. There may be a chance to save the tooth, however, if we can determine the cause of the looseness and treat it appropriately.
Teeth are normally held securely in place by the periodontal ligament, an elastic tissue that attaches to both the teeth and the bone. Certain conditions, however, can disrupt this attachment. The most common is advanced periodontal (gum) disease, an infectious condition caused by bacterial plaque. It can severely inflame and damage the surrounding gum tissues resulting in bone loss. As the bone is lost, the periodontal ligament is lost as they detach from the teeth. In fact, tooth looseness may be a fairly late sign of the disease.
Another major cause is teeth grinding (bruxism) and clenching habits that result in excessive biting forces. Usually stress-related, teeth grinding and clenching generate forces on the teeth outside of their normal range. As a result the periodontal ligament can become stretched, inducing tooth looseness.
Our treatment approach depends on which condition is causing the looseness, best assessed with a thorough dental examination. If gum disease is the culprit, the main treatment is to remove as much bacterial plaque and calculus (tartar) as possible using various techniques such as scaling or root planing (accessing and cleaning root surfaces). It’s also imperative for you the patient to start and maintain an effective hygiene regimen of daily brushing and flossing, along with professional cleanings every three to six months depending on your degree of vulnerability to gum disease. Subsequent healing will stimulate tissue reattachment to the teeth.
In the case of excessive biting forces, we primarily want to reduce their effect on the teeth. Treatment can include muscle relaxants or anti-inflammatory drugs, or a custom-fitted bite guard to minimize biting forces from teeth grinding during sleep. In some cases we may opt to reshape the biting surfaces of teeth through removal of small amounts of surface enamel: this will reduce the biting force by altering how the upper and lower teeth contact. It’s also possible to splint loose teeth to more stable teeth, joining them like pickets in a fence. This helps relieve the biting force on teeth with significant loss of bone support.
If you notice a loose tooth, you should make an exam appointment with us as soon as possible. The sooner we can diagnose the cause and begin treatment, the less chance you’ll lose your tooth.
If you would like more information on loose teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Loose Teeth.”