Written by Marygrace Taylor
If your mouth or teeth feel a little off these days, you’re not imagining it. It’s less commonly noted that menopause and dental health changes can sometimes go hand in hand.
Research estimates that up to 60% of menopausal women may experience some form of oral discomfort.1 Often this takes the form of dryness or a burning sensation in the mouth, but gum sensitivity, shifting teeth, and even an altered sense of taste can also occur.
If you’re wondering what’s causing mouth issues during menopause, it could be the same culprit behind your other symptoms: hormones. Declining estrogen levels experienced during menopause can lead to a decrease in saliva production, which can raise the risk for oral health problems ranging from dry mouth to a sudden increase in cavities.2 Lower estrogen also often leads to a reduction in bone density, which may result in bone loss in the jaw and affect gum health.3
These oral health changes during menopause can’t always be avoided. And sometimes, they can be compounded by other factors like diabetes, taking certain prescription medications, and age-related gum recession.4 The good news is that they can be managed, often with healthy habits and regular visits to your dentist.
Menopause and Teeth Problems
Estrogen is a potent bone protector, so as the body produces less of it, reduced bone density and an increased risk for osteoporosis can occur. In addition to raising the chance for fractures, this can cause bone loss in the jaw, resulting in receding gums that can become swollen and inflamed. And when problems occur within the jaw or gumline, that can lead to problems with the teeth.5
Menopause and Shifting Teeth
If your teeth don’t look quite as straight as they once did, menopause could be playing a role. As shifting hormones can cause the jawbone to lose density and the gumline to recede, teeth can start to loosen or separate. This could make your smile look different, or even change one's occlusion, which is the way your teeth fit together when you bite down.
These issues are worth bringing up with your dentist—whether they’re bothersome or not. Even if your shifting teeth don’t hurt and you don’t mind the look of them, excessive bone loss in the jaw may lead to tooth loss or tooth decay. Obtaining adequate calcium and vitamin D may help to keep your teeth protected.6,5
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Menopause and Mouth Issues
In addition to causing teeth to shift, menopause can sometimes lead to unpleasant sensations in the mouth. These are largely driven by a decrease in saliva production, which is commonly triggered by declining estrogen levels during this transitional period.8,9
Menopause and Dry Mouth
Less saliva makes it harder for the mouth to stay moist, which can lead to dry mouth. This problem can be uncomfortable and potentially cause bad breath, but more importantly, it can increase the risk for tooth decay, since saliva helps to rinse away plaque on teeth. Many common medications – like high blood pressure drugs and medications for depression or anxiety – can cause dry mouth as a side effect, compounding the problem.10,11
Burning Tongue and Menopause
Menopause can be associated with a feeling of pain or burning on the tongue, along with a greater sensitivity to hot or cold foods and an altered sense of taste. Experts don’t fully understand what causes these problems, though again, it’s thought that hormone fluctuations are involved.12
Menopause and Gum Health
Hormone-driven bone loss can cause the gum line to recede, but declining estrogen levels can also spur inflammation around the gums – leading to puffiness, sensitivity, or bleeding. When left unmanaged, this can potentially lead to gum disease and tooth decay during menopause.13
Protecting Your Dental Health During Menopause
As with other symptoms of menopause, hormone-related dental issues can be managed – often through adopting and maintaining healthy habits and incorporating simple lifestyle changes. Experts recommend the following preventive steps:14
- See your dentist at least twice a year. Regular checkups serve as a chance to catch and treat potential problems sooner. If you’re experiencing discomfort in between visits, call your dentist to get it checked out.
- Brush twice daily and floss once. It’s the simplest, most effective way to remove plaque that can cause inflammation and tooth decay.
- Choose healthy foods. Limit your intake of sugary foods and drinks. You’ll feel better overall – and your mouth will be healthier for it.
- Avoid dry mouth triggers. Caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol can make dry mouth worse. On the other hand, sucking on ice chips, drinking more water, or even using an over-the-counter dry mouth spray can help alleviate dryness.
- Ask your doctor about calcium and vitamin D supplements. Both can help combat the effects of reduced bone density and help protect your jawbone.
- Sleep with a humidifier. Adding moisture to the air in your bedroom can reduce mouth dryness and help you sleep more comfortably.
- Ask your dentist about prescription options. Artificial saliva products can be an option for severe dry mouth, while prescription-strength fluoride toothpaste can provide added defense against tooth decay.