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When women enter menopause, changing hormone levels bring about a variety of symptoms and raise new oral health issues. Women and their doctors must consider the entire range of physical and emotional health implications, including their oral health.
As natural levels of estrogen decline, women may find themselves at risk for loss of bone density. Jawbones are no different; these structures hold our teeth in place, and loss of jawbone density can lead to tooth loss.
When women lose teeth, there are other immediate considerations. One is the potential loss of nutrition, as people with fewer teeth or with problem teeth tend not to eat well. Second is the loss of confidence or self-esteem that results from any cosmetic changes to our bodies. And third, the financial cost of replacing one or more teeth can stretch even the best-planned budget.
Hormonal changes also can have an impact on the health of gums and teeth. Women may find that their gums become inflamed and bleed easily, and may discover that their teeth are more cavity-prone. Both gum disease and tooth decay can result in losing teeth, another good reason to consider your oral health during this significant time of your life.
Women may notice a burning sensation or dryness in their mouths. They also may discover that these changes cause food to taste different, leading to a loss of appetite. Be alert to an appetite loss that persists, particularly if you begin to lose weight.
If gums become inflamed or bleed easily, alert your dentist who will check for early signs of gum disease. A receding gum line may indicate bone loss in your jaw, so ask your dentist to examine your mouth and jaw carefully.
Both you and your doctor should discuss prevention techniques, including calcium and vitamin D supplements, and replacement therapy for hormones. These are personal decisions that vary from woman to woman, and your doctor is best equipped to advise you.
What you can do is pay attention to your nutritional needs. Make sure you eat a wide assortment of healthy foods. Fruits and vegetables provide essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. Exercise also is important to maintain your oral health and a healthy lifestyle.
Finally, keeping tabs on your emotional health as you enter menopause is important. A healthy outlook on life enables women to value themselves and seek the care required including: maintaining good oral health, seeing the doctor and dentist regularly, and focusing on healthy eating and exercise.
By Brian J. Gray, DDS, MAGD, FICO
Saliva, which contains essential protein molecules, electrolytes, and minerals, is critical to good oral dentistry health. Saliva lubricates and cleanses the mouth, preserves and bathes tooth structure, neutralizes acids that cause cavities, limits growth of bacteria, viruses, and fungi, dissolves and breaks down food, assists with taste, keeps the mouth moist (no dry mouth which helps with speaking and eating), and facilitates the retention of dentures.
Research has shown that healthy, unmedicated older adults do not have any significant decrease in saliva flow. Loss of saliva and dry mouth are not the result of normal aging, but are instead associated with illness, disease, medication treatments, and medication.
Reduced saliva flow increases the harmful effects of the organisms of the mouth, causing dental cavities, bleeding gums, plaque, burning mouth, pain, soft tissue infections, and cracks. In addition, an individual may have difficulty speaking, tasting, and swallowing food. Dentures do not fit well or feel comfortable when saliva is reduced.
Older adults take many over-the-counter and prescription medications for chronic medical conditions and disorders. For many of these medications, decrease in saliva flow is a common side effect. In fact, over 500 prescriptions and over-the-counter medications cause dry mouth (xerostomia). The medications most often associated with dry mouth are:
Although medication use is frequently associated with dry mouth, certain medical diseases, conditions, or treatments reduce saliva flow. Examples are
By Denise J. Fedele, DMD, MS