When you think about menopause, you may think of losing bone mass in the hips and spine. But did you know that women lose bone mass in their mouth and jaw, too? As a result, menopausal women are at increased risk for tooth loss.
Indeed, women can lose 40% of their bone mass during perimenopause and menopause, according to Joan Otomo-Corgel, DDS, MPH, the president of the American Academy of Periodontology. Because of swings in hormone levels, menopausal women are more susceptible to gum disease, loose teeth, and tooth loss.
"[A patient's] mouth will reflect these changes faster than almost any other tissue in the body," Dr. Otomo-Corgel explained.
What your dentist needs to know
Healthcare professionals, including dentists, ask about your health history to develop the best treatment plan possible for you. When a dentist knows that a woman is undergoing menopause, he or she can better monitor changes in the patient’s gum and bones.
A dentist, for example, may ask how long you have been experiencing menopausal changes, if you are or have been on any hormone replacement therapy, or if you have had a hysterectomy, because all those factors can affect your oral health.
“Many women have had a hysterectomy at an early age, which makes them more susceptible to problems with low hormone levels, such as decreased bone mineral density and thinning of … gingiva and hair,” Dr. Otomo-Corgel said.
In addition to screening for oral health diseases, dentists can also screen for other menopausal-related conditions, such as osteoporosis. In fact, just going through menopause is a risk factor for bone loss.
"There are a number of risk factors that can contribute to a person's susceptibility to osteoporosis and bone loss,” Dr. Otomo-Corgel said. “For example, steroids, long-term medications for treating gastroesophageal reflux disease (proton pump inhibitors), blood thinners, antiseizure medication, and medications for cancer chemotherapy are some of the medications that have the potential to reduce bone density.”
New scientific research is also showing that osteoporosis and gum disease are linked, so if your dentist is aware that you have or are at risk for osteoporosis, he or she can take action to diagnose and treat gum disease before it becomes aggressive, Dr. Otomo-Corgel explained. She also cited research that has indicated that postmenopausal women with osteoporosis need new dentures than other women because of changes in bone dentistry and tooth loss.
Dr. Otomo-Corgel acknowledges that talking to a dentist about menopause may be difficult, but it’s an important conversation to have -- it might just save your teeth.