Hot flashes. Night sweats. Mood swings.
Most of us have heard about these and other common symptoms of menopause. But far fewer of us ever stop to think about the effect menopause can have on oral health.
Staying informed and taking steps to protect your teeth are of utmost importance for women during this stage of life.
Menopause is defined as the point in time 12 months after a woman's last menstrual period. It typically begins between the ages of 45 and 55 and lasts about seven years, but it can last as long as 14.
“Menopause” is often used as a blanket term, but the transition is technically divided into three phases:
Menopause affects different women differently. Decreased levels of the hormone estrogen and other changes lead to a wide variety of symptoms.
“Because menopause isn’t just one moment in time, the experience can really range,” says Dr. Jessica Buehler, Delta Dental’s Senior Director of Dental Affairs and Oversight. “The key is paying attention to your body.” Some women experience only mild symptoms of menopause, while others’ symptoms can be more intense.
Some of the most common signs and symptoms of menopause include:
If you’re experiencing symptoms of menopause, be sure to discuss your experiences, your medical history and any treatment preferences with your physician.
To learn more about menopause, check out the following resources:
Dental health and hygiene become a concern as women get older. Your dentist may be the first person to notice changes related to menopause because symptoms of overall bodily changes often appear first in the mouth.
Here are some of the effects menopause can have on your oral health:
Although the term “dry mouth” may not sound serious, the long-term effects of decreased saliva flow on oral health over time can be devastating. Dry mouth decreases the body's ability to fight off minor infections or maintain a healthy balance of useful and harmful bacteria within the mouth. Painful oral symptoms are frequently associated with reduced saliva, sometimes further aggravated by removable partial dentures. Other potential complications of dry mouth are mouth ulcerations and oral fungal infections.
“Saliva is the natural buffer of your mouth,” says Dr. Buehler. “It keeps your mouth healthy. Young people have so much saliva that their teeth are far more protected than adults. The older you are the more likely you are to have dry mouth. On top of that, women experience significant hormone level changes as they age, which increases the likelihood of dry mouth.”
Certain medications, like allergy medications or drugs for osteoporosis, can also impact saliva flow. “The older a person gets the more medications they’re likely on, regardless of gender,” Dr. Buehler points out.
Burning mouth syndrome (BMS), also known as glossodynia or stomatodynia, affects menopausal women seven times more than it affects men. Burning mouth is described as a burning sensation affecting different areas of the oral cavity, including the tongue, palate, lips and areas of denture support.
Menopause affects the density of bones throughout the body, including the jawbone, thereby reducing the stronghold the jaw has on teeth.
When your hormone levels change, your gums can get swollen and irritated. During these hormonal changes, your gums may be more susceptible to bleeding, because your body's immune system is more sensitive than usual. This can cause inflammation (redness, swelling and sometimes pain) in the gums.
The many hormonal changes that take place during menopause make the teeth and gums more susceptible to plaque. This leads to a much higher risk for tooth decay, gingivitis (gum inflammation) and advanced gum disease.
Here are the keys to maintaining your oral health during menopause:
For all menopausal women, practicing adequate oral hygiene is crucial.
“Oral health care should get better with age, not worse,” says Dr. Buehler. “The likelihood that you’re going to have tooth decay or a dental issue is always higher the older you are regardless of gender because part of the equation for tooth decay is time.”
To adequately care for your teeth at home:
Be aware of the symptoms of menopause and how they can affect your oral health. Dr. Buehler emphasizes that watching out for the symptoms of dry mouth is essential to protecting your oral health. Ask yourself:
Your dental office can do saliva-flow testing to help determine your rate of saliva flow and the best treatment options.
Keeping saliva flowing and the proper pH balance in your mouth is important to oral health. “Drink water or high pH bottled water with nothing else in it,” recommends Dr. Buehler. ”Don’t mix in anything like juices, flavors or lemons. Water is the next best thing to saliva. It’s partially about hydration, but it’s also about buffering the oral environment and keeping the pH of your mouth controlled.”
Keeping a healthy, youthful-looking mouth during menopause and beyond will depend on clear communication about any symptoms you’re having with your dentist. “If you want your teeth to look young and healthy, you need to be talking to your dentist,” says Dr. Buehler.
Post-menopausal women who use hormone therapy during menopause have a 24% lower risk of tooth loss than in non-users. Discuss hormone therapy and potential oral health implications with your physician.
High levels of stress can exacerbate oral health issues. Practice your favorite stress-reduction technique or pick up a new one, such as yoga or meditation, to benefit both your oral health and your overall well-being.
Last updated August 30, 2023
The oral health information on this website is intended for educational purposes only. Always consult a licensed dentist or other qualified health care professional for any questions concerning your oral health.