Oral Health and Menopause
Would you believe if you were told that menopause affects your oral health?
We have established that your mouth reflects what is going on in your body and just as the menopause can affect many areas of a woman’s body, the mouth is no exception.
Although oral discomfort and dental problems are inevitable during the menopause; there is plenty you can do to minimize the impact of the menopause on your mouth – and everywhere else! If you are wondering what happens when your hormones start changing, how this might affect you, and what changes can occur in your mouth around this time, then keep reading.
What is the menopause?
The menopause which is defined as one year after your last period and then forever, naturally occurs when your ovaries stop producing eggs and you make less of the hormones; oestrogen and testosterone. This is usually a result of aging and is a normal process. The average age of the menopause in the UK is 51 years, but it is not unusual for women to enter menopause in their 40s, or even have a premature menopause in their 20s or 30s. Some women have surgery that affects their ovaries or medical treatment that interferes with their hormones. When this happens, these women are said to have a surgical or induced menopause.
Does ‘perimenopause’ sound unfamiliar? It describes the time when you have menopausal symptoms, but you have still had a period within the last 12 months. Signs and symptoms can occur for many years before your menopause and usually begin in your early to mid-40s.
Effects of menopause
When your levels of oestrogen and testosterone start to fall, most systems in your body, from your brain to your bones, are affected by this change. Symptoms can be grouped into physical, psychological and vasomotor (how your blood vessels dilate and constrict).
Physical symptoms can be tiredness, problems sleeping, muscle and joint pains, headaches, vaginal dryness, urinary function changes and infections, and of course, changes in the mouth which will be covered in more detail.
Psychological symptoms range from low mood, anxiety, irritability, mood swings, brain fog, poor memory, reduced libido and a loss of self-esteem and confidence. The ‘vasomotor’ symptoms are the most well-known, such as hot flushes and night sweats.
Do you know that there are also long-term consequences to your health? After the menopause, if no treatment is taken, living with low levels of oestrogen causes an increased risk of diseases such as heart disease, osteoporosis (bone-thinning), type 2 diabetes, depression and dementia.
How to detect perimenopause or menopause
If you are over 45 years old and have not had a period for more than 12 months (and you do not take contraception or medication that affects your periods), it is likely that you are in the menopause.
Also, if your periods have started becoming more irregular and you’re experiencing one or more of the symptoms listed, it is likely that you are in the perimenopause, especially if you are in your late 30s or 40s.
To understand more about your hormones, perimenopause and menopause, use the free balance app www.balance-menopause.com to track your periods and symptoms.
Ways menopause affect your mouth
Lack of oestrogen and progesterone can reduce production of saliva from your salivary glands. As well as being uncomfortable, dryness can make your mouth more vulnerable to infection. As a result of the dryness, you may be more prone to tooth decay especially if you use sugary drinks to alleviate the dryness.
Burning mouth syndrome
A feeling of a burning mouth that may affect the tongue, gums, lips, inside of your cheeks, roof of your mouth or your whole mouth. The burning sensation can be severe, like when you’ve burnt your tongue or palate on hot liquid or food.
Effects on the gums
Gum disease is more common in women after the menopause. Pain and inflammation in the gums, known as gingivitis, can be a common occurrence when oestrogen is in short supply. Chronic gum problems can lead to destruction of the bone supporting your teeth, known as periodontitis. Gums can change in color becoming paler or more often, a deeper red color. You may also notice your gums bleeding, especially when you brush your teeth, or that your gums are shrinking around the teeth, known as gum recession. Other problems might be bad breath, pain on chewing, or bite problems.
Some women notice an alteration in their taste, especially with salty, peppery or sour foods.
As with bones elsewhere in the body, the upper and lower jaw bone lose their bone mineral density (strength) and decrease in size. This bone shrinkage increases the risk of teeth becoming loose or, on occasions, falling out.
Other effects of menopause that can impact your mouth
It is common to crave more sugary foods, and increase your alcohol intake or smoking due to stress, anxiety or feeling low. These habits can cause dental problems like cavities, or infections. If you have anxiety, you may start grinding your teeth at night too.
Ways to minimise oral changes due to menopause
It is important to take care of your mouth and teeth around the time of the menopause.
Consider using rechargeable powered brushes over manual ones as evidence suggests plaque is removed more effectively with electric toothbrushes.
Minimize the amount of sugary food and drink you consume to reduce your risk of dental decay. It is advised that you visit your dentist and hygienist as often as the team deem necessary.
Medical consultation and support may address your other menopausal symptoms and help protect your future health.
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