The Menopause Exchange Blog

ALL ABOUT YOUR ORAL HEALTH

Your mouth is often described as a window to the rest of your body, so it may come as no surprise that during the menopause it can become subjected to many unpleasant and irritating symptoms. Fortunately, with the correct knowledge and care, it’s relatively easy to look after your oral health throughout and beyond the menopause.

This article was included in issue 72 (spring 2017) of The Menopause Exchange newsletter.

Oral health at the menopause
The menopause is a normal part of the aging process but one that can cause many changes to your body. Fluctuations in hormones can lead to common oral problems. Even medicines that are used to treat some menopausal symptoms can have a knock-on effect on your oral health.

Some of the major potential problems your mouth can face during the menopause include burning mouth syndrome (a common cause of intense pain, especially on your tongue and lips), a dry mouth (due to oestrogen deficiency), bleeding gums that may appear pale, dry and shiny, gum disease (periodontitis), osteoporosis (bone loss) in your jaw and poor eating habits.

Other problems related to menopause may not be a direct result of this time of life, but can be because of medicines you’re taking for other conditions. For example, doctors often prescribe a class of drugs known as bisphosphonates to help treat osteoporosis. One of the rare but serious risks of these drugs is osteonecrosis or dead jaw, which is when the jaw bone weakens and can die.

If you’re prescribed any medicines, always discuss any potential side effects and complications with your GP to see if you’re personally at any risk. If you’re experiencing the menopause, tell your dentist or another member of the dental team and discuss your symptoms with them. You may find this embarrassing, but the menopause can have some lasting and serious effects on your oral health if they’re not addressed early enough and treated effectively.

Burning mouth syndrome
Burning mouth syndrome is the main oral symptom that post-menopausal women are likely to experience. Sufferers may have a moderate to severe burning feeling on their tongue, palate, lips, gums or inside their cheek. The feeling may start in the morning and build up to a peak by the evening, often easing by night time. Some people have the burning feeling all the time. For others, the pain comes and goes.

Other symptoms of burning mouth syndrome include numbness or tingling of your mouth or tongue, a bitter or metallic taste or a dry or sore mouth. People often describe burning mouth syndrome as feeling like you have scalded your mouth with hot food or drink.

Treating burning mouth syndrome isn’t always easy. It can be trial and error to begin with. During the menopause, it’s often linked to medication that you’re taking. Discuss with your doctor if there are any alternative medications you can use if you’re experiencing burning mouth syndrome. Some doctors prescribe a course of counselling and low-dose anti-depressants. This is because burning mouth syndrome can ‘wear down’ some people, and cause depression due to the daily battle with pain. Other therapies include relaxation, yoga, meditation and hypnotherapy, as these have been found to help some people cope with anxiety.

Dry mouth
Dry mouth is a common symptom of the menopause, and can be closely linked to burning mouth syndrome. There are several dry mouth products available with or without a prescription. They come in many forms including pastilles, mouthwashes, gels and toothpastes. You should always ask your dentist or pharmacist for advice on these products.

Good oral health
When it comes to looking after your oral health, there are three basic and important rules to follow. These are:

  • Brush your teeth last thing at night and at least one other time during the day, with a fluoride toothpaste.
  • Cut down on how often you have sugary foods and drinks.
  • Visit your dentist regularly, as often as they recommend.

By following these rules. most people will be able to avoid any serious oral health issues throughout their lives. However, some people may require more specialist care, depending on specific issues such as their diet or illness. That’s why it’s vitally important that you visit your dental team regularly. This doesn’t always mean your dentist, but includes the dental hygienist or therapist as well. Everyone’s mouth is different and therefore their treatment is specific to them, so always pay attention to what your dental team tells you. If you have any questions, don’t be afraid to ask.

What else can you do?
During and after the menopause, you should try to be conscious about what’s going on in your mouth. Ensure you maintain a good general oral health routine by following the three rules already mentioned.

If you have any oral symptoms, such as burning mouth syndrome or a dry mouth, you can also follow these helpful tips to see if they help:

  • Sip water frequently or suck on ice cubes
  • Avoid hot and spicy foods
  • Avoid mouthwashes that contain alcohol as this may be an irritant
  • Chew sugar-free gum to help produce more saliva to hydrate your mouth
  • Avoid alcohol and tobacco products
  • Cut down on caffeine.

Further help
All women experience the menopause differently, so make sure that you fully discuss any worries or questions you have regarding your oral health with your dental team or GP.

If you need any further advice, you can contact the Oral Health Foundation’s Dental Helpline for free, impartial and expert advice from a team of trained dental professionals.

Oral Health Foundation
The Oral Health Foundation is an independent charity dedicated to improving oral health in the UK and abroad. You can find information on its website (www.dentalhealth.org) and can call the Dental Helpline for advice on 01788 539780.

This article was written by Karen Coates, dental advisor at the Oral Health Foundation.

Created spring 2017

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