If asked to name side effects of menopause, most people would list hot flashes, irritability, or maybe insomnia. But the hormonal changes that the female body goes through during and after menopause affect the whole body — yes, even the teeth!
Menopause and the Mouth
During and after menopause, the production and regulation of hormones in the body changes. Because the mucus lining of the mouth contains estrogen receptors, the levels of estrogen in the body directly impact oral health. In fact, postmenopausal women are susceptible to a few very specific oral health issues as compared to younger women.
For example, many postmenopausal women suffer from something called “burning mouth syndrome,” a condition in which the tongue, lips, palate, and gums experience discomfort or even intense, burning pain. Postmenopausal women may find their gums bleed more easily, or may change in appearance — and, worse, that they’re more likely to contract periodontitis, more commonly known as gum disease.
Osteoporosis is also more common in postmenopausal women, which can lead to bone loss in the mouth. This can impact the appearance of the face by changing the way muscles and skin on the face look.
Another side effect of menopause is dry mouth, which is exactly what it sounds like. Though a dry mouth may seem harmless, it actually greatly increases the likelihood of tooth decay. Saliva normally carries bacteria and food buildup away from teeth, but a dry mouth will allow those things to sit on the surface of teeth and harden into plaque more easily.
Estrogen Therapy Could Help
Estrogen therapy is already a common treatment for other symptoms of menopause. Menopause results in lowered natural production of estrogen, but hormone replacement therapy can help raise and stabilize those levels to counteract the negative side effects of lowered estrogen.
A new study published in NAMS, the North American Menopause Society’s journal, show that estrogen therapy in postmenopausal women can also decrease the risk of related oral health problems.
The study examine nearly 500 Brazilian women between the ages of 50 and 87, all of them postmenopausal. These women were tracked throughout their estrogen therapy treatments (some with estrogen alone, and others with estrogen plus progestin) and evaluated to see if the treatment would increase bone mineral density in the jaw. This increase would mean improved overall oral health.
The results of the study were position: Postmenopausal women who were treated with hormone replacement therapy were almost 50% less likely to have severe periodontitis (gum disease).
Hormone therapy may not be the best choice for everyone, but if there’s one thing that postmenopausal women should take away from all of this, it’s that protecting your oral health after menopause should be a high priority.
If you’re entering menopause, or are already postmenopausal, your dentist can advise you on the best ways to protect and care for your oral health under these new circumstances. Informing your dentist about changes to your overall health, such as menopause, can help them monitor for related side effects during checkups, and suggest any changes to your oral health routines that can better defend against the new risks you face.