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Dental Health

MDs: Menopause Wreaks Havoc on Your Oral Health — 5 Ways to Keep Your Smile Healthy

Up to 79% of women experience hormone-related dental issues, including dry mouth and gum disease –– these 5 tips can help. 

You know menopause causes side effects like hot flashes, insomnia and dry skin, but did you know it can also impact your mouth? This information might seem obvious, but according to the results of a recent survey (more on that below), the majority of women are unaware of the link between menopause and oral health. Here, we explain how menopause affects dental hygiene and provide tips for preventing some of the most common oral bothers.

What women know about menopause and oral health

In Delta Dental’s Senior Oral Health and Menopause Report: Breaking the Stigma, 1,061 American women aged 50 and older answered various questions about their oral health and menopause transition. Considering the effects that menopause has on all aspects of well-being, you might think that most women involve their dentists in treatment, but the study’s findings show otherwise. In fact, only 2% of women surveyed said they had discussed menopause-related concerns with their dentist. Furthermore, an astounding 84% of those surveyed said they were unaware of how menopause affected their oral health. That’s despite 79% of respondents saying they’d noticed a change in the appearance of their teeth and gums with age. 

So, why the disconnect? Several factors are at play, but the most obvious reason is that menopause conversations often focus on hormonal changes and physical health, rather than dental well-being.

Lauren Streicher, MD, an obstetrician-gynecologist and the Director of Consumer Education at Midi Health says this disconnect is strange, considering that “mouths and vaginas have a lot in common.” For example, both the mouth and vagina:

  • Depend on moisture to function properly
  • Must maintain proper pH to ensure a healthy bacterial balance
  • Contain estrogen receptors

Since menopause affects all of these things, women going through the transition are more likely to experience oral health problems.

Menopause and oral health: Common dental challenges

Menopause and oral health: Mature woman applying nourishing balm on her dry lips

The hormonal changes caused by menopause affect the mouth in several ways, according to the experts we interviewed. Here’s a closer look at some of the most common bothers:

Dry mouth

“Over 30% of women over the age of 65 say that their mouth is a whole lot dryer than when they were 20,” says Dr. Streicher, who also hosts Dr. Streicher’s Inside Information: THE Menopause Podcast. “A study published over 20 years ago established that estrogen and progesterone receptors are not only found in the salivary glands but play a huge role in the amount of saliva that’s produced.”

Indeed, one study, published in the Journal of the Indian Academy of Oral Medicine and Radiology concluded that postmenopausal women had a significant decrease in salivary flow compared to regularly menstruating women. Another, published in the Journal of International Society of Preventive & Community Dentistry, found that menopausal women were more likely to have imbalanced salivary pH, increasing their risk of dry mouth and tooth decay.

Dry mouth is uncomfortable, but according to Dr. Streicher, it’s “also associated with gum disease and bone loss — not just in the jaw, which can lead to tooth loss, but also in other parts of the body such as the spine and hip.” That’s even more of reason to get it under control.

Related: Doctors & Dentists: What You Need to Know If You Wake Up With a Dry Mouth

Gum disease

Fatima Khan, DMD, a Temple University-trained dentist and the creator of Riven, the world’s first probiotic mouthwash, says more than 38% of women develop gum disease because of hormone fluctuations, like those that occur during menopause.

These “hormonal changes alter the blood vessels in the gums, causing swelling, and allowing bleeding to occur more readily,” she explains. (Click through to see how to stop bleeding gums for good). Moreover, they increase the risk of gum irritation and plaque accumulation, “which in turn can make you more susceptible to advanced gum disease.”

Burning mouth syndrome (BMS)

Also known as glossodynia, BMS “is characterized by a scalding, burning, tingling or numbing sensation, predominantly affecting the tongue,” Dr. Khan explains. “However, symptoms can extend to the gums, palate (roof or the mouth) and entire oral cavity.”

Though BMS can affect anyone, it’s particularly common in perimenopausal and postmenopausal women ages 50 and older. Scientists aren’t entirely sure why BMS occurs, but research published in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine concluded that the high incidence rate in middle-aged women indicates a strong correlation with fluctuating female sex hormones.

Tooth and gum pain

Aside from obvious symptoms like gum disease, dry mouth, and burning mouth syndrome, Lana Rozenberg, DDS, a cosmetic dentist in New York City with more than 25 years of experience says menopause-related hormone fluctuations often increase the risk of tooth and gum sensitivity.

For instance, you might notice that daily preventive measures, like brushing and flossing your teeth become uncomfortable. It can be tempting to limit these activities to avoid pain, but this only makes things worse. So, it’s crucial to talk with your dentist if you experience any of the above symptoms.

Menopause and oral health: 5 simple tips for keeping your mouth healthy

Because menopause is a natural process, there’s no way to prevent it, but there is plenty you can do to control its effects and protect your teeth, gums and smile. Experts recommend:

1. Invest in an electric toothbrush

Menopause and oral health: Close-up of woman with cell phone and toothbrush in bathroom

Up to 80% of Americans still use a manual toothbrush, but upgrading to an electric one provides significant benefits, especially during menopause. Yes, it’s an investment up front, but the pros far outweigh the cons.

“The key advantage of electric toothbrushes is their oscillating, rotating and pulsing technology, which replicates the motions needed for thorough cleansing,” explains Dr. Khan. “These toothbrushes are especially beneficial for individuals with dexterity issues, weak grip or arthritis.”

Even better? Electric toothbrushes get rid of more plaque — a mixture of saliva, bacteria and food particles responsible for cavities and gum disease. One study published in the International Journal of Pediatric Dentistry concluded that electric toothbrushes eliminated 32% more plaque than manual ones.

2. Get a handle on dry mouth

Dry mouth can devastate your oral health, says David Hornbrook, DDS, an internationally renowned cosmetic dentist based in California. Consider that if your mouth doesn’t produce enough saliva, you’re more likely to develop cavities, gum disease and bad breath. Similarly, it can make chewing and swallowing difficult and leave your mouth feeling like a desert. Since menopause makes the problem worse, it’s important to take action.

“There are multiple over-the-counter (OTC) products that can help combat the issue,” says Gita Yitta, DMD, a public health dentist and the Chief Dental Officer at DenScore. “Two well-known companies, Biotene and ACT, both make rinses and lozenges specifically for those suffering from dry mouth.” One to try: Biotene Dry Mouth Lozenges for Dry Mouth and Fresh Breath.

Not a fan of mouthwashes or lozenges? Try chewing gum. “Orbit, a popular sugar-free gum with xylitol, can help increase saliva production and reduce that feeling of cotton mouth,” Dr. Yita adds.

3. Eat well-balanced, nutrient-rich meals

You know consuming sugary foods and drinks increases your risk of tooth decay, but a healthy, balanced diet has the opposite effect. This is especially true during menopause, as common side effects like dry mouth can be exacerbated by the snacks and meals you eat.

Dr. Rozenberg’s advice: Select ingredients you have to chew. “Fruits and vegetables like apples, celery and carrots require lots of chewing, which produces salivary flow,” she explains. And increased saliva production helps protect your teeth and gums from damage and decay.

Related: 7 Foods for Healthy Gums, Including a Sweet Treat You’d Never Expect.

4. Increase your probiotic intake

Menopause and oral health: Greek yogurt in a glass jars with spoons,Healthy breakfast with Fresh greek yogurt, muesli and berries on background.
wilatlak villette/Getty

Oral health has a direct impact on your health in general. While brushing and flossing prevent plaque and reduce the risk of tooth decay, establishing a healthy oral microbiome is just as important. Harmful microorganisms can take over without a balance of good bacteria, increasing your risk of tooth loss and even disease.

“Oral probiotic tablets or mouthwashes may help with bacterial imbalances and bring your mouth to a healthier state,” Dr. Khan says. Likewise, eating probiotic foods like sauerkraut and kimchi may provide similar benefits. These foods contain beneficial microbes that can restore the equilibrium inside your mouth, reducing the risk of common, menopause-related issues.

Related: Prebiotics for Weight Loss: How the Fiber Is Helping Women Over 50 Get Slim Faster

5. See your dentist regularly

Routine dental checkups and teeth cleanings might seem like a hassle, but they’re invaluable to your oral health. This recommendation applies even if you brush twice a day, floss daily and eat a healthy diet. Since many menopause-related dental issues develop slowly over months or years, regular exams help catch them early on when they can be easily treated. That said, you may benefit from more than two exams per year.

“In our practice, we recommend women experiencing menopausal changes visit us every three months to maintain [their] oral health,” Dr. Hornbrook says. Although that might seem like a lot, it’s an easy and effective way to preserve your smile now and into the future.

Related: Dentists Finally Settle the Debate on Using Mouthwash Before or After Brushing

For more oral health advice, click through the links below!

White Gums Can Point to a Serious Health Issue — Dentists on When You Should Be Concerned

Top Dentists: Oil Pulling Won’t Whiten Your Teeth, But Here’s Why You’ll Want to Try It Anyway

Dentist-Recommended Tips to Get Rid of Garlic Breath — and the Pre-Meal Snack That Prevents the Problem

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