Going through menopause? A surprising amount of changes can happen to your teeth and gums during this time, but there’s no reason to alarmed – providing you take a few moments to get informed.
Hormone changes experienced during menopause affect nearly every part of our body, with our teeth, bones and gums being no exception. These areas are quite sensitive to hormonal changes and, are affected in quite complex ways.
So if you’re going through menopause, don’t despair. Managing these changes is simply a matter of educating yourself about the issues and taking care of your dental health and hygiene.
- Hormonal changes in menopause can affect women’s teeth, bones and gums.
- Menopausal women are more susceptible to bone loss which may lead to tooth loss
- Menopausal women may also be more susceptible to periodontal disease, dry mouth and burning mouth syndrome
- The majority of oral health problems or sensitivities experienced during menopause are easily managed through good oral health care and hygiene, possibly HRT, and regular dental checkups.
Altered taste & burning mouth
If you’ve noticed that your food tastes different, it may be due to your hormones. Your fluctuating hormones may be indirectly altering the way your food tastes, making it extra salty, peppery or sour. And some food may even taste metallic or bitter. These sensations aren’t a condition in themselves, but a byproduct of a rather unpleasant medical condition known as Burning Mouth Syndrome (BMS).
Only 1% of the population will suffer BMS, although the prevalence of BMS is significantly higher in menopausal and postmenopausal women (43%) compared to premenopausal women (6%). It’s thought that the higher prevalence of Burning Mouth Syndrome is due to hormonal fluctuations that occur in menopause. As unpleasant as it sounds, it can make your lips, the front of your mouth, inside cheeks and tongue feel any range of distressing symptoms such as tender, numb, burning, hot or even scalding sensations.
TREATMENT: Talk to your dentist if you’re experiencing Burning Mouth Syndrome. They may recommend medications, nutritional supplements, or possibly adjust any oral appliances you wear to make you feel more comfortable. A cure remains elusive at this point, though.
Decreasing oestrogen levels predisposed women to dryness throughout the body, from dryer complexion, vaginal dryness and dry eyes to a reduced salivary flow. The exact reason for this dryness remains unknown, despite well-documented evidence. But menopausal women have lower salivary flow rates than menstruating women, which is why many menopausal women suffer from dry mouth or xerostomia. Having a dry mouth makes you more predisposed to minor infections, plaque formation, caries and periodontal disease because saliva helps your body maintain a healthy balance of bacteria in your mouth and prevent cavities.
TREATMENT: If you’re experiencing dry mouth, talk to your dentist. He or she may recommend prescription-strength fluoride toothpaste as an added precaution to help prevent tooth decay. They may also discuss ways of providing symptomatic relief, such as sucking on ice chips, chewing sugar-free gum or sipping water throughout the day. The food you eat may also contribute to your dry mouth. Avoiding sticky, spicy, salty or sugary foods, or dry foods that are hard to chew and swallow may make a difference. Likewise, alcohol and caffeine can dehydrate, making your dry mouth worse. In the evenings, keeping a humidifier in the bedroom is reported to make a difference (and can also help with dry eyes and a dry complexion).
We all suffer bone loss as we age; however, decreased oestrogen levels may additionally decrease bone density. You may see evidence of bone loss in your jaw and mouth through receding gums (where more of your tooth is exposed) and a less defined or receding jaw. The main concern with bone loss for menopausal women is tooth loss, as receding gums make teeth more exposed to bacteria, cavities and gum disease.
TREATMENT: Speak to both your dentist and doctor about your bone loss concerns. You may be sent for tests to check calcium levels or bone density, and you may be recommended supplements or medications.
Periodontal or gum disease
Postmenopausal women suffer higher rates of gingivitis and periodontitis due to decreased salivary flow, making them more predisposed to bacterial plaque. Ironically, women on HRT – which can relieve a lot of menopausal symptoms – are at greater risk for gingivitis and periodontitis.
TREATMENT: Regular trips to the dentist for check-ups to ensure that your teeth and gums remain disease-free are essential during and after menopause.
The decision to take hormone replacement therapy is one best decided with your GP or gynaecologist. HRT does help women manage a plethora of hormonal issues, from mood swings, hot flushes, insomnia, improved bone density, improved heart health and more. Whether or not HRT can improve oral health is not 100% clear, but it’s highly likely. HRT has been proven to help with the following:
- Preventing bone loss (linked to tooth loss)
- Prevent the development or worsening of all health issues such as BMS, periodontal disease and dry mouth
- Increased rates of healing with periodontal disease
- Fewer oral symptoms such as dry mouth
Part of taking care of yourself during menopause involves staying in close contact with your medical and dental practitioners. They may be able to help in ways that you have never thought, making this sometimes emotionally tricky transition a lot easier.
If you are one of the lucky ones and are gliding through menopause without experiencing any symptoms physically or mentally, it’s still a good idea to have regular checkups with your dentist to keep the likes of periodontal disease and tooth loss at bay. However, if you’re experiencing uncomfortable physical symptoms with menopause, speak to your doctor – and for dental concerns, speak your dentist as soon as possible. It’s imperative you seek help sooner than later as dental disease can escalate more quickly during this time of rapid hormonal change. By maintaining close contact with your dentist and doctor, you’ll greatly minimise the chance of any discomfort or distress.