A loose tooth may be cute when a small child anxiously awaits a visit from the tooth fairy; however, when you’re an adult, discovering that one of your teeth is shifting is understandably alarming.
While it isn’t often discussed, this problem is actually quite common. A healthy adult mouth should have 32 teeth (or perhaps 28, if you’ve removed your wisdom teeth), but the National Institute for Dental and Craniofacial Research reports: “Adults age 20 to 64 have an average of 24.92 remaining teeth” and “3.75 percent of adults 20 to 64 have no remaining teeth.” These are sobering statistics, but fortunately, if you understand what can cause tooth loss and looseness, you can take significant steps to reduce your risk for this condition.
Dr. Craig Armstrong and our Houston dental team are passionate about helping our patients enjoy full, beautiful, and healthy smiles. Read on to learn about the possible causes of loose teeth (and what you can do to avoid these).
The Perils of Periodontitis
You’ve probably heard of periodontal disease, but you might not realize how serious it can be. Early gum disease is known as gingivitis. At this stage, the only symptoms may be slightly red, swollen, or bleeding gums. Gingivitis typically causes minimal or no discomfort. Many adults have it and don’t know it. While it can become uncomfortable, and certainly isn’t ideal for your mouth, gingivitis is treatable and reversible with proper dental care.
If, however, the gingivitis goes untreated, it progresses into a more advanced infection. This is called periodontitis, a chronic inflammatory condition that affects the supporting structures of teeth. Essentially, when a person has periodontitis, a slow bacterial infection causes the body to turn on itself and break down the bones that hold our teeth in place. Like most chronic medical conditions, patients are often totally unaware of any symptoms relating to periodontitis. For example, you might brush off bad breath or take no notice of receding gums, but these are tell-tale signs of periodontitis. Without proper dental care, periodontitis irritates the gum tissue, causes swelling, and eventually destroys the foundation for your teeth, causing them to loosen and eventually fall out.
For this reason, periodontitis is the most common cause of tooth loss in adults. It is extremely widespread. The American Academy of Periodontology cites a CDC study which “estimates that 47.2 percent, or 64.7 million American adults, have mild, moderate, or severe periodontitis,” while “in adults 65 and older, prevalence rates increase to 70.1 percent.” This means that roughly half of all Americans are at notable risk for loose teeth.
These numbers are upsetting, but fortunately, they don’t have to be this way. Gum disease, especially in earlier stages, is very treatable. To prevent periodontitis, you should come see Dr. Armstrong at least every six months for a routine examination and professional cleaning. During this appointment, we will check your mouth for signs of gingivitis or periodontitis, as well as remove bacterial buildup from your teeth and gums. Furthermore, you can ward off periodontitis by brushing your teeth twice a day for at least two minutes and flossing your teeth daily. Flossing is key in periodontitis prevention because it is the only way to reach surfaces under the gums and between the teeth, where bacteria can gather.
Another common reason for loose teeth and tooth loss is injury. In addition to being extremely uncomfortable, hard hits to the mouth can knock teeth loose by damaging the supportive ligaments and bone that surround them. While you might try to shake them off and move on, even minor facial blows can damage the tooth structure, so it’s important to schedule an appointment with Dr. Armstrong if you experience any kind of oral trauma. We are available to assist you with all types of dental emergencies.
Although accidents can happen to anyone, some groups are at an increased risk. Children who are still developing their motor skills and athletes (especially those who play contact sports) should consider seeing our Houston dental team to get a custom mouth guard. We will specially make this device to suit your specific smile. Covering the teeth with a mouth guard helps absorb the shock of any potential trauma to keep your smile safe.
Additionally, if your teeth are out of alignment, significant force can be placed on a single tooth, which can contribute to fracture, looseness, and potential loss. If you have crooked teeth, braces could benefit both the health and function of your smile, reducing your risk for dental trauma.
Loose Teeth and Large Cavities
You may be familiar with the process of tooth decay: when sugars and particulate matter are left to sit on your teeth, cariogenic (cavity-causing) bacteria eat them, leaving behind acidic waste that erodes your enamel. Without proper treatment, cavities can become quite large. Teeth may become loose following this type of severe tooth decay. The bacteria that originally broke down the enamel can eventually reach the middle of the tooth, where its nerve and blood supply live. This allows the infection to spread to the bottom of the tooth, infecting the bone and ligament that support the tooth. At this point, the surrounding bone can be broken down to the point at which the tooth will loosen.
As with gum disease, severe decay can be scary to consider, but you can avoid it by taking good care of your teeth. Keeping your biannual preventive care appointments, brushing your teeth twice a day, flossing daily, and avoiding sugary or acidic foods and beverages can help you keep your teeth in place.
Additionally, if you do have a cavity or notice any changes in your teeth, you can stop decay in its tracks by visiting our office for treatment sooner rather than later. Dr. Armstrong can remove the damaged portion of the tooth and place a dental filling to restore it. We encourage our patients not to delay dealing with decay, since as time goes on, it tends to spread.
The way your teeth come together can also have an effect on your oral health. Ideally, when you close your mouth to eat and talk, your teeth touch together evenly, with no single tooth touching first. If this does occur, it puts the entire force of your mouth on just one tooth. This can damage the tooth itself and break down the supporting structures such that it ultimately becomes loose. If you notice any symptoms of malocclusion (an improper bite), come see Dr. Armstrong for a consultation. We may be able to help you correct this condition so you can avoid suffering from shifting teeth and other undesirable symptoms.
Another factor in a healthy bite is your jaw health. The temporomandibular joint, commonly referred to as the TMJ, is made up of the bones and muscles that help us open and close our mouths. If this joint becomes inflamed or irritated, the body will accommodate this, placing traumatic force on our teeth. Basically, by transferring some of the pressure away from the injured TMJ, your body can loosen your teeth. Dr. Armstrong can determine if you suffer from TMJ disorder and determine an appropriate treatment plan for you.
Additional Factors to Consider
While these do not appear to directly cause tooth loss, there are two other factors to consider when maintaining solid tooth structures. These are:
- Hormonal shifts. Pregnancy can affect a woman’s body in many ways, including contributing to an increased risk for gingivitis and possibly periodontitis, if the first stage of gum disease is left unmanaged. In addition, as the Journal of Natural Science, Biology and Medicine pointed out, there is a correlation between periodontitis during pregnancy and low birth weight babies, as well as premature births. If you’re expecting and want to avoid loose teeth in addition to a host of other issues, you should take excellent care of your teeth and gums. You should also continue to see your dentist during this time, as Dr. Armstrong can help you prevent these problems. The American Dental Association has found that dental work is safe for mom and baby during pregnancy.
- Osteoporosis.The National Osteoporosis Foundation describes this condition as “a bone disease that occurs when the body loses too much bone, makes too little bone, or both.” According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation, “the 44 million people with osteoporosis or low bone mass represent 55 percent of people aged 50 and older in the United States,” so this problem is unfortunately common. While a direct link between osteoporosis and tooth loss is not totally established, osteoporosis can most certainly change the way that bone develops around teeth. For this reason, patients with osteoporosis should be especially vigilant about their oral health. Furthermore, patients who are taking medications to manage osteoporosis and may be losing teeth or have loose teeth should be under the care of a dentist, since they are at risk for a bone infection called osteonecrosis, which can be especially severe after tooth loss. If you suffer from osteoporosis, we can help you keep your smile healthy.
There are additional risk factors to take into account regarding adult tooth loss, but these are two of the most major ones. Dr. Armstrong can describe your particular likelihood for loose teeth and tooth loss in greater detail at your next appointment.
Are You Too Old For the Tooth Fairy?
Having loose teeth as an adult is uncomfortable and unhealthy. No matter the cause, this condition requires your dentist’s attention. Don’t ignore dental problems that might get worse. Contact the office of Craig Armstrong, DDS to schedule your appointment with our expert dental care team!
https://visual.ly/community/infographic/health/facts-about-tooth-loss-0 (Facts About Tooth Loss)
https://1stinsmiles.com/blog/5-tooth-loss-stats-that-you-may-not-know-infographic/ (5 Statistics About Tooth Loss)