Menopause is a time of great change. You're probably prepared for certain changes -- such as weight gain, hot flashes, and vaginal dryness -- as these are commonly discussed by women and health publications. But there's another part of your body that's going to go through some changes as your hormone levels adjust: your mouth. As you approach menopause, being aware of the oral health issues that often occur in menopausal women will keep you from being alarmed and will also ensure you take proper measures to address any problems you experience.
The decrease in estrogen levels that occurs during menopause affects all of the moisture-secreting glands in your body, including your salivary glands. As you enter menopause, your saliva production will decrease, and you'll likely begin to experience dry mouth. Symptoms of dry mouth include cracking lips, a cottony feeling in the mouth, and an inability to eat drier foods (like pretzels and crackers) without sipping a drink at the same time.
Dry mouth is annoying, but it's also a danger to your teeth and gums. Oral bacteria thrive in a dry mouth, causing accelerated tooth decay and gum disease. For this reason, it is important to see your dentist if you begin noticing dry mouth symptoms. Your dentist may prescribe a rinse, like Biotene, that will help boost saliva production and keep your mouth moist. You can also sip water throughout the day or chew sugar-free gum regularly to help keep your mouth moist. Avoiding smoking and limiting your caffeine intake should help, too.
Gum disease can occur even in the absence of dry mouth. As you go through menopause, your epithelial tissues, including those in your gums, become more delicate. This means they're more prone to bacterial infection. If you notice the following symptoms, it's time to talk to kick your oral hygiene routine into high gear in an effort to beat gum disease:
- Bleeding from the gums when you brush or floss
- Pain or soreness, especially when you press on your gums
- Redness and/or swelling of your gums
If your symptoms don't improve within a week or two of brushing twice a day, flossing thoroughly, and using an antiseptic mouth rinse, visit your dentist. He or she can prescribe an antibiotic and perform a thorough, professional cleaning to get your gum disease under control. You may also need to see your dentist more often for professional cleanings to keep gum disease at bay throughout menopause.
Tooth decay usually occurs when you've suffered from dry mouth or gum disease for a while but have not been successful in managing it. It's caused by the same oral bacteria that cause gum disease. You don't always experience any tooth decay symptoms until the condition is severe, which is why it's so important to see your dentist for regular checkups when you're entering menopause. If you notice these signs of tooth decay, make an appointment as soon as possible:
- Sudden sensitivity when you eat hot or cold foods
- Aching or sharp pains in a tooth
- The appearance of a black, gray or brown spot on a tooth
- Generalized pain in the jaw
Many women don't experience burning mouth syndrome, but for those who do, it can be pretty alarming if they have no idea it's a normal side effect of menopause. You'll feel a burning sensation in your mouth -- similar to that which occurs when you eat very spicy food. Some women only notice symptoms at night. Others notice them after eating or after eating certain foods.
Burning mouth syndrome can be quite unpleasant, but thankfully, there are numerous treatments that you and your dentist can try in order to get it under control. Antidepressents including SSRIs are effective for many patients. Others experience success with oral lidocaine, acupuncture, or topical capsaicin. You may have to try a few treatments before you find one that works.
Hormone replacement therapy will help keep all of these oral menopause symptoms under control. If you're really struggling with your oral health as you enter menopause, this might be a reason to talk to a dentist, such as those at Northwest Dental Services and Implant Center, and a physician about the pros and cons of hormone replacement and whether it is right for you.