Unless you’re young enough to look forward to a visit from the tooth fairy, you don’t want to discover that your teeth have become loose. In adults, this is usually a sign of major trouble—and it requires immediate evaluation and treatment. If you suffer dental trauma (such as a blow to the face or a sports injury), chances are you know exactly what caused the teeth to become loose, and you can be treated accordingly. But did you know that teeth can gradually become looser over a period of time—and that bad habits can contribute to loose teeth?
Most of the time, the problem of loose teeth in adults is caused by periodontal (gum) disease. In fact, this chronic disease is the most common reason why adults lose their teeth. Periodontal disease occurs when harmful bacteria are allowed to build up on the surfaces of teeth in sticky deposits called dental plaque; this often happens when oral hygiene is inadequate. The bacteria cause gums to become inflamed, and may produce “pockets” of infection beneath the gum line. Eventually, toxins released by the microorganisms result in the breakdown of connective tissue and bone that hold the teeth in place. Unfortunately, because the symptoms of gum disease can be easy to miss–especially if you smoke–the disease may already be in its late stages by the time loose teeth are noticed.
Gum disease can be treated in the dental office by a variety of methods, including deep cleanings, medications and surgery. But there are also plenty of things you can do at home…and some bad habits you should avoid!
- Floss and brush every day. This is your primary weapon in the fight against gum disease.
- Stop smoking or using any other tobacco products: These are really bad for your mouth, as they reduce blood flow to the gums—not to mention your health in general!
- Avoid sugary beverages and foods, especially between meals: The sugar you consume sustains harmful bacteria in your mouth, which can cause gum disease, tooth decay, and other problems—so don’t feed them!
- Be sure to visit your dentist regularly for checkups and professional cleanings. You can remove some of the softer bacterial buildup (plaque) at home, but hard deposits (tartar or dental calculus) can only be removed by a professional.
Although periodontal disease is the major cause, teeth may also become loose when excessive forces are applied to them. These extreme (or parafunctional) forces—which may be 20 to 30 times greater than the normal biting pressure—can stretch the periodontal ligaments which connect teeth to bone, resulting in loose teeth. Often, parafunctional forces are the result from bad habits.
Teeth clenching or grinding is a major culprit: Whether due to anxiety or other causes, many people develop the habit of tightly clamping the jaws together, which stresses muscles as well as teeth. This behavior may occur during the day or at night, when it isn’t obvious. The habit of chewing on gum, pencils, ice, or other foreign substances can also place excessive forces on the teeth, with similar results.
Sometimes, simply becoming aware of the unconscious behavior can help you to control it. If it isn’t enough, your dentist may recommend that you wear a custom-made bite guard to protect your teeth from damage, or suggest another treatment. You may also want to try out some stress-relieving techniques during the day, or before bedtime: See if breathing exercises, soothing music, a warm bath or other calming influences can help you “decompress” when you feel overwhelmed.
When you’re a child with a loose tooth, you may get a visit from the tooth fairy. But as an adult, you’re more likely to get… a missing tooth. Don’t let it come to that! Pay attention to your oral hygiene, and be sure to see your dentist at the first sign of a loosened tooth! Call us at 1-800-238-5163 to find out about how dental savings plans can help make quality dental care affordable.