Hot flashes and night sweats are two menopause annoyances utilized for comedic relief in TV shows and movies like That 70’s Show and Mrs. Doubtfire. While the comedic dramatizations are chuckle-inducing, there are other serious changes associated with menopause — including problems with your oral health — that are no laughing matter.
Research has long shown that women are at increased risk for oral health problems because of physiological changes associated with hormonal fluctuations that occur from puberty through menopause. In fact, a 2009 literature review by researchers from the Cleveland Clinic and Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine concluded that postmenopausal women are even more susceptible to periodontal disease and related conditions.
Some of the more common dental problems women experience during menopause include:
- Oral discomfort – Pain, burning sensations, altered taste perception and dry mouth are a common complaint among menopausal and postmenopausal women.
- Receding gums – Fluctuations in hormone levels can make gums more sensitive and more vulnerable to recession, which in turn leaves those areas more susceptible to decay.
- Bone loss – As estrogen levels decrease, bones become weaker and brittle. This isn’t limited to your legs and arms. Women going through menopause can also experience bone loss in the jaw, which can affect how removable prosthodontics fit. In fact, a 2006 American Dental Association report noted that postmenopausal osteoporotic women may require new dentures more often after age 50 than women without osteoporosis.
- Tooth loss – The rate of whole-body bone loss in postmenopausal women is a predictor for tooth loss. A 1996 study on the relationship between tooth loss and bone loss found that “for every 1% per year decrease in whole-body bone mineral density, the risk of tooth loss increases more than four times.” Other studies have supported the hypothesis that systemic bone loss may contribute to tooth loss in healthy individuals, and women with low bone mineral density tend to have fewer teeth compared to controls.
Although the oral symptoms of menopause seem scary, the solution is simple: Menopausal and postmenopausal women are strongly encouraged to maintain good dental hygiene. This includes:
- Brushing your teeth twice a day and floss at least once a day.
- Visiting your dentist twice a year to detect problems early on.
- Eating a well-balanced diet and avoiding overly sugary foods.
- Talking to your dentist about any concerns or symptoms that you are having.