Women who are menopausal or post-menopausal experience fluctuations in hormone levels that cause changes in gum tissues. These include sensitivity, more severe reactions to irritation (such as plaque), dry mouth, altered taste or burning sensations. Women can also be more susceptible to gingivitis, the initial stage of periodontal (gum) disease.
During puberty, increased levels of progesterone and estrogen cause an increase in blood flow to the gums. This can cause gums to redden and be more sensitive. However, menopausal or post-menopausal females have lower estrogen levels and, therefore, greater oral health risks, which are made worse by osteoporosis.
While lower estrogen levels create a higher risk for gum disease and tooth loss, many risk a simultaneous incidence of osteoporosis. The most common form of osteoporosis is that which affects post-menopausal women. Post-menopausal osteoporosis is a leading cause of bone fractures, including a measurable number of wrist fractures, vertebral fractures and hip fractures.
Periodontal disease is an oral inflammation that contributes to tooth loss and destruction to the bone structures that support teeth. It is estimated that nearly 75% of American adults have some level of gum disease.
At the same time, osteoporosis and related fractures have become a leading health concern in America, being more prevalent than coronary disease, stroke and breast cancer. Because the increasing global population is living longer, researchers have taken a growing interest in the relationship between osteoporosis and periodontal disease.
The influence of osteoporosis on periodontal disease has been studied since 1968. With the world’s rapidly aging population, however, researchers are more actively investigating the links between oral diseases and other serious health problems, including osteoporosis.
Age is an obvious factor in both gum disease and osteoporosis. One survey reported that, while 3.6% of adults between ages 18 – 34 had periodontal disease, 86% of adults over age 70 had at least moderate periodontal disease and over 25% had lost their teeth. When the challenges of post-menopause are meshed with those of aging and osteoporosis risk, tooth loss becomes a significant health dilemma.
Although gum disease is localized to the mouth, the bacteria of gum disease can become bloodborne through tears in weakened gum tissues. This traveling bacteria has been shown to activate inflammatory triggers elsewhere in the body. Research has found links between gum disease bacteria and heart disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, preterm babies, impotency and more.
For many women, treating gum disease does not mean the problem is resolved. In a ten-year study, women who had both osteoporosis and periodontal disease were shown to experience far greater severity in gum disease than females with gum disease but without osteoporosis. This study also noted that overall skeletal bone loss correlated with a declining of the bone mass supporting teeth. There were also indications that a shrinking mass of tooth-supporting bone indicated bone fracture risks elsewhere in the body.
Knowing the role that osteoporosis plays in the destruction of bone structures that support teeth could help in determining the course of treatment for both osteoporosis and periodontal disease. Although osteoporosis has not been determined to be a cause of periodontal disease, it seems to affect the severity of gum disease once it presents itself.
Women who are menopausal or post-menopausal can certainly take steps to reduce their risk for gum disease and tooth loss. Using a battery-powered toothbrush, daily flossing, a diet rich in vitamins C and D, drinking lots of water and reducing stress are all helpful.
They should also be aware of the symptoms of gum disease, including gums that are shiny or darken in color, tender gums that bleed easily, persistent bad breath and gums that pull away from teeth and expose darker, more sensitive tooth roots.
Your best preventive measure, for either gender and at any age, is to have regular dental exams and cleanings. These 6-month check-ups help you maintain a healthy, confident smile throughout each year. Call 910-254-4555 to schedule an appointment.