For children, loose teeth are part of growing up and often looked forward to with eager anticipation. However, loose teeth in adults can be an indication that some of the bone or ligaments securing the teeth in place have been damaged. While occassional slightly loose teeth lasting 1 or 2 days may be of no concern, persistently loose teeth are often caused by gum disease. Loose teeth may also be due to trauma, osteoporosis, pregnancy, and even certain medications. Left untreated, some of these conditions may lead to tooth loss. If any teeth appear loose, see a dentist to determine the cause and begin appropriate treatment, if necessary.
Gum disease -- also known as periodontal disease -- is a common condition that affects not only the gums, but also the ligaments and bone surrounding the teeth. Periodontal disease is caused by inflammation. It begins when bacteria form plaque and tartar on the teeth. The plaque and tartar cause inflammation in the tissues around the teeth, leading to tissue damage and eventual destruction. When enough bone or ligaments are destroyed, the teeth become loose. Pain and difficulty with chewing often occur as well. If the periodontal disease is not successfully treated, the teeth may eventually fall out or need to be removed by a dentist.
Osteoporosis and Biphosphonates
Osteoporosis puts many older women and men at risk for bone fractures, especially of the spine, wrists and hips. Osteoporosis also weakens the bone surrounding the teeth, leading to loose teeth and potential tooth loss. According to the National Institutes of Health, women with osteoporosis are 3 times more likely to lose a tooth than women without osteoporosis. Osteoporosis and certain other conditions are often treated with bisphosphonates. Although bisphosphonates are generally beneficial and safe, they can rarely lead to a serious condition called osteonecrosis of the jaw. Loose teeth and pain are some of the symptoms of this condition.
Traumatic Forces and Injuries
Mechanical forces, such as chewing with misaligned teeth or grinding or clenching the teeth, can stretch the ligaments surrounding the teeth, thus causing the teeth to loosen. Grinding the teeth at night is particularly harmful, as it places at least 3 times more force on the teeth and gums than normal chewing of food. Injuries to the face can also loosen ligaments or fracture bone around the teeth, resulting in loose teeth. Any significant injury to the facial area is an emergency that should be immediately assessed by a doctor and dentist.
Effects of Pregnancy
Natural body changes during pregnancy can temporarily loosen the ligaments supporting the teeth, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. These changes can result in some tooth mobility, but this is generally not a concern if the gums are healthy. However, ACOG estimates that 40 percent of pregnant women have some degree of periodontal disease, which may have been present before their pregnancy or it may be pregnancy-related. Pregnant women tend to develop more inflammation in response to dental plaque than non-pregnant individuals. Regardless of the cause of periodontal disease, its presence in addition to the normal ligament loosening during pregnancy may lead to tooth loss.