Menopause — and its full-body effects — is entering conversations more often these days. Still, you might be surprised to learn that the hormonal changes during this period of life can affect your oral health.
In fact, according to a 2023 Senior Oral Health and Menopause Survey by Delta Dental, the majority of women ages 50 and older are unaware that menopause increases their risk of several oral health issues.
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During menopause — which usually begins during someone's 40s or 50s — reproductive hormones like estrogen decline and can cause a variety of oral symptoms like dry mouth, oral discomfort or even pain and burning, dentist Jessica Buehler, DDS, Senior Director of Dental Affairs at Delta Dental, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
Below, explore the ways menopause can affect your oral health — and get tips on how to better protect your teeth and gums into your later years.
1. Dry Mouth
Saliva is your mouth's main "protector" and it has many functions, including preventing tooth decay, limiting bacterial growth in the mouth, aiding with digestion and helping wash away food particles, per the Mayo Clinic.
And although many people probably don't realize it, saliva production is related to estrogen levels.
For most people, a decrease in estrogen likely means a change in both saliva production and consistency, per 2022 research in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
Without normal saliva production, chronic dry mouth can cause a variety of symptoms and, over time, may compromise your oral health.
2. Teeth Shifting and Tooth Loss
Menopause can also affect your bone growth and density. As estrogen levels decline, the body can no longer grow or repair bones at the same rate, leading to bone loss.
The Cleveland Clinic estimates about 20 percent of bone loss happens within the first five years of menopause — significantly raising the risk of bone fractures, low bone mineral density (BMD) and osteoporosis (a disease that weakens the bones and lowers bone density.)
These rapid changes can also affect your mouth — most notably, your jaw bone and teeth. A July-September 2014 review in the Journal of Mid-Life Health cited several studies linking decreased BMD in the jaw bone and advanced osteoporosis to tooth loss.
"Menopause affects the density of bones throughout the body, including the jawbone, thereby reducing the support that the jaw provides to the teeth," says Dr. Buehler.
The changes in estrogen can also weaken the strength of the ligaments — like the ones that anchor the teeth in their sockets. As a result, teeth shifting may occur as the teeth may "drift" out of alignment.
Misaligned teeth can cause issues with biting down, says Dr. Buehler, which can mean teeth grinding, jaw pain and headaches.
"It can also put excess pressure on fewer teeth, leading to cracks, fractures and even cause the nerve of that tooth to die," she adds.
3. Mouth Pain
Teeth pain and oral discomfort often have an underlying issue — like dry mouth and bone density issues, for example. However, menopause is also related to a painful condition known as burning mouth syndrome, or BMS.
According to a July-September 2013 article in the Annals of Medical & Health Sciences Research, BMS is a chronic condition causing moderate to severe burning or cutting sensations on the tongue, lips or inside of the mouth.
BMS is relatively rare, affecting only 2 percent of the population, but women are seven times more likely to be diagnosed than men, and the majority of those women are postmenopausal, per the American Academy of Oral Medicine (AAOM).
The exact cause of BMS is unknown, but Dr. Backer says it's thought that the painful symptoms are associated with a lack of estrogen, as it most often affects women either during or after menopause.
The AAOM notes that BMS is associated with mental health conditions like anxiety and depression as well as fibromyalgia, and it's linked to other symptoms like fatigue, shoulder pain and ringing in the ears.
"BMS can bring other issues like candidiasis (fungal infection), allergies, tongue problems, dry mouth and more health issues that compromise the oral health of the individual," notes Dr. Backer.
How to Manage Oral Health Changes in Menopause
Menopause — and the changes that come with it — can feel overwhelming, but there are steps you can take to protect and even improve your oral health.
1. Talk to Your Dentist
First and foremost, be open with your dentist and discuss how menopause may be affecting your oral health.
According to Delta Dental's survey on oral health and menopause, the majority of respondents 50 and older had experienced at least one oral health symptom since menopause, but only 2 percent discussed their concerns with their dentist.
Most dentists recommend a minimum of two visits a year, so take the opportunity to discuss your overall health and any new or potential symptoms related to menopause.
While you're with your dentist, they'll have the opportunity to not only clean your teeth, but discuss any issues and offer targeted treatment when needed.
2. Keep Up With Brushing and Flossing
Between dental visits, brush your teeth at least twice a day and floss at least once a day — and never go to bed without brushing.
"Salivary flow decreases at night while we are sleeping and our teeth are at a higher risk for decay," says Carolina Cespedes, DDS, traveling prosthodontist for ClearChoice Management Services.
3. Take a Look at Your Medications
As you age, you're more likely to take medication to manage a health condition, and these medications can sometimes come with side effects that exacerbate menopause-induced oral health issues.
For example: "Many of the common medications taken by older women also have a side effect of dry mouth," Dr. Cespedes says.
If you're taking prescription meds, talk to your doctor about any oral health-related side effects you're experiencing. They may be able to adjust your medication or dosage to keep these side effects to a minimum.
When to See a Dentist
Ideally, your dentist will catch any issues during regular dental visits. However, if you begin to have sudden pain that lingers throughout the day, teeth sensitivity or consistently bleeding gums even despite flossing and brushing regularly, Dr. Cespedes recommends seeing your dentist as soon as possible.
Additionally, Dr. Cespedes advises keeping an eye out for sensitive, bleeding or receding gums, as these can be signs of periodontal disease and bone loss around the teeth.
Finally, if you have difficulty swallowing or need to constantly drink water, you may be experiencing dry mouth and should reach out to your dentist about treatment options.
- Delta Dental: "Unlocking menopause’s hidden impact: 84% of women 50 and older unaware of menopause-oral health connection"
- Delta Dental: "Breaking the Stigma: Let's Talk About Menopause and Oral Health"
- Mayo Clinic: "Dry Mouth"
- International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health: "Changes in the Oral Cavity in Menopausal Women—A Narrative Review"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Dry Mouth (Xerostomia)"
- Journal of Mid-Life Health: "Menopause and Oral Health"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Osteoporosis and Menopause: Protect Your Bones"
- Annals of Medical & Health Sciences Research: "Oral Health and Menopause: A Comprehensive Review on Current Knowledge and Associated Dental Management"
- American Academy of Oral Medicine: "Burning Mouth Syndrome"
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.