menopause and dental health

Women experience changing hormone levels through different phases of life. They can endure many bodily changes during menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause. Most of the times, these hormonal changes affect oral health in specific ways. In some cases, the effect of hormonal fluctuations in the mouth may be negligible. However, during menopause, it can lead to unfavorable oral symptoms.

Menopause is a phase of life which leads to the end of female fertility. It is a normal part of the aging process. Usually, menopause begins around the age of 45-55 years, but it can develop before or even after this range. Often, menopause brings along a series of uncomfortable symptoms like hot flashes and weight gain. Additionally, it also affects the oral tissues. Some of the common oral health symptoms caused during menopause include dry mouth, burning mouth, periodontal disease, bone disorder, and mucosal changes.

A woman experiencing menopause may witness a few or all of these oral symptoms. Typical oral health care routine can help to keep the oral symptoms under control. However, professional treatments may be carried out in severe cases. Today’s article will highlight the oral symptoms of menopause and preventive steps to improve your oral health.

What do you mean by menopause?

Menopause is the time when the menstrual periods of a woman stop permanently. It is the phase of life that leads to the end of female fertility. A female reaches the stage of menopause only after it has been a full year since the last menstruation. This means there have been no signs of bleeding or spotting for twelve months in a row. (1)

Usually, after the stage of menopause, the female ovaries decrease the production of hormones like estrogen and progesterone. The sudden decrease in the hormonal level can raise the risk for specific health problems. Additionally, the hormonal fluctuation caused by menopause may also affect the oral tissues.

How does menopause affect oral health?

The period of menopause can be characterized by physiological changes in the body due to reduced estrogen production. This hormonal and microbiological variation may influence the mouth in the following ways –

Periodontal disease

Periodontal disease is a chronic inflammatory disease of the gums. It is typically characterized by gum inflammation and alveolar bone resorption.  Interestingly, osteoporosis is considered as one of the risk factors for periodontal disease. (4)Clinical studies have revealed that post-menopausal women show an increased prevalence of periodontal disease due to low levels of estrogen. Additionally, menopause can be the sole cause of gingivitis. Symptoms of gingivitis may include –

Around 75% of the women over 35 years of age experience gingival bleeding and symptoms of gum disease.

Dry mouth

Dry mouth or xerostomia is a pathological condition of the mouth which is characterized by insufficient or altered salivary secretion. Often dry mouth can be temporary or permanent. There is a direct link between reduced salivary flow and low levels of estrogen. The hormonal changes during menopause make the saliva thick. Additionally, dryness of the mouth contributes to increased risk of gum disease and tooth decay. (5)

Burning mouth syndrome

Burning mouth syndrome is a typical sign of menopause in females. It is mainly characterized by the presence of a burning sensation in the mucosal tissues in the absence of any significant oral lesions. Typically, burning mouth syndrome occurs with dry mouth and dysgeusia. The oral tissues involved in burning mouth syndrome may include the tongue, palate, lips, and floor of the mouth.

Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a bone disease which is characterized by a low content of calcium resulting in weak bones and increased risk of bone fractures. Usually, estrogen takes part in the regulation of bone calcium level in the body. A decrease in the control causes a successive drop in calcium levels leading to the formation of porous and fragile bones. Studies show that around 30% of the women aged more than 60 years are affected by post-menopausal osteoporosis. Most often the lower jaw is affected more than the upper jaw leading to loss of tooth anchorage in the mouth.

What can you do to improve oral health during menopause?

Simple oral healthcare routine can help to keep the symptoms of menopause under control –

  • Regular dental examinations and professional teeth cleaning will help to remove the plaque and bacteria.
  • Daily oral health regime efficiently keeps the teeth and gums free from tooth decay and gum bleeding. (6)
  • Limit the consumption of sugary and carbohydrate-rich foods. Rinse your mouth after every meal.
  • Smoking aggravates oral conditions, especially during dry mouth or burning mouth syndrome.
  • Drink plenty of water to cope up with the dry mouth.
  • Maintain a balanced diet.

How long does menopause last?

Usually, menopause begins around the age of 45-55 years. However, in some cases, it may occur early or later than the mentioned age range. Several factors help to determine the onset of menopause like genetics and the health of the ovaries. Perimenopause is a condition that occurs before the beginning of menopause. During this time, a woman may experience hormonal changes in preparation for menopause. (2)

Often the phase of perimenopause lasts from a few months to several years. But in rare cases, some women may skip perimenopause and enter menopause suddenly. Most of the women begin to experience the symptoms of menopause about four years before their last period. Clinical studies have revealed that around one in ten women suffers the symptoms of menopause for twelve years after their last period.

What are the symptoms of menopause?

Symptoms of perimenopause may differ from that of menopause as follows –

  • During perimenopause, the menstrual period becomes irregular.
  • The periods may be late, or a woman may even skip one or more periods.
  • Menstrual flow may become heavier or lighter

Symptoms of menopause include –

  • Weight gain
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Insomnia
  • Increased urination
  • Dry eyes, skin, and mouth (3)
  • Memory problems and headaches
  • Reduced libido
  • Painful and stiff joints
  • Hair thinning or loss
  • Urinary tract infection
  • Reduced bone mass

Take away message

Menopause commonly occurs at the age of 45 – 55 years. However, a woman may experience the symptoms of menopause several years before the onset. The sudden changes in the hormone level not only affect the overall health but also cause several oral conditions.

Some of these oral conditions include dry mouth, periodontal disease, bone loss, burning mouth syndrome, and gum infection. Most of the times, menopause and its symptoms can be managed by following good oral health practice and lifestyle adjustments. However, professional help may prove o be helpful in some instances.