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Postmenopause and your oral health

Postmenopause and your oral health

Women often hear about maintaining their physical and mental health after menopause. But what about oral health?

This phase of life comes with changes to women's mouths, too. Here’s what you need to know about keeping a vibrant and healthy smile long after menopause.

What is postmenopause?

Postmenopause is a phase of life marked by the end of a woman’s reproductive years, following the end of menstrual periods. It usually begins around age 55.

How does postmenopause affect the health of your mouth?

Postmenopausal women experience a decrease in the hormone estrogen. This hormone can effect the gums, saliva and overall health of the mouth.

Some common oral health issues associated with being postmenopausal include:

Dry Mouth

Saliva production can continue to decrease during postmenopause, leading to dry mouth, or xerostomia, a condition that affects about 25% of menopausal women.

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. Karen Horace, Dental Policy Manager at Delta Dental. “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. Horace points out.

Burning mouth

Postmenopausal women may experience burning mouth syndrome (BMS), also known as glossodynia or stomatodynia. 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. Some postmenopausal women may also experience other forms of oral discomfort or altered taste perceptions.

Tooth crowding and loss

Lowered estrogen contributes to decreased bone density, increasing the risk of osteoporosis, when the body’s creation of new bone can’t keep pace with the loss of old bone. Decreased density in the jawbone reduces the stronghold the jaw has on teeth, leading to tooth loss.

Swollen, irritated gums

Lower estrogen levels can lead to reduced blood flow to the gums. When your hormone levels change, your gums are more susceptible to inflammation, bleeding, infection and gum disease.

Tooth decay and gum disease

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.

Maintaining your oral health after menopause

Here are the keys to maintaining your oral health after menopause:

1.  Step up your oral health care routine at home.

For all postmenopausal women, practicing adequate oral hygiene is crucial.

“Oral health care should get better with age, not worse,” says Dr. Horace. “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:

  • Brush at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste using proper technique, paying extra attention to the gum lines and hard-to-reach areas, and floss at least once daily.
  • Use an antimicrobial mouth wash to reduce the accumulation of dental plaque and help prevent gum disease and tooth decay.

2.  Keep track of your symptoms.

Be aware of postmenopausal symptoms and how they can affect your oral health. Dr. Horace emphasizes that watching out for the symptoms of dry mouth is essential to protecting your oral health. Ask yourself:

  • Has the surface of my tongue changed in appearance?
  • Does my tongue appear cracked or dry?
  • Is my tongue dry to the touch?
  • Are my lips sticking to teeth more often?
  • Am I producing less saliva?

Your dental office can do saliva-flow testing to help determine your rate of saliva flow and the best treatment options.

3.  Stay hydrated.

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. Horace. “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.”

4.  Communicate with your dentist.

Keeping a healthy mouth after menopause depends 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. Horace. Address any dental issues promptly if you’re experiencing any oral discomfort, sensitivity or other changes. Intervention can prevent issues from worsening, so consult your dentist promptly.

5.  Maintain a healthy diet.

Consume a balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals, particularly calcium and Vitamin D. Limit alcohol, caffeine, sugary snacks or beverages and overly salty foods.

6.  Consider hormone therapy.

Hormone therapy helps some women manage a host of menopausal and postmenopausal issues, including those related to oral health. Discuss hormone therapy and potential oral health implications with your physician.

7.  Manage stress.

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.