Sore gums. Burning sensations. Dry mouth. All of these can result from the hormonal changes of perimenopause and menopause. Annoying enough on their own, they can also contribute to periodontal disease, so let’s talk teeth.

During perimenopause, things just start to get drier: eyes, mouths, skin, hair, vaginas, sense of humor….

Estrogen – and this one surprised even us – plays a very important role in the creation of saliva, and the lack of it in perimenopause and menopause can trigger a feeling of scalding, burning, numbness, itch or stickiness in the mouth or a metallic taste and increased thirst.

We already know that menopause can diminish our sense of taste partly due to lack of moisture; in more severe cases, xerostomia (dry mouth) can even make it difficult to swallow or speak.

What do I need to worry about if my mouth is dry?

If your mouth chronically feels dry, or if it gets progressively worse during the day, you should probably take steps to combat the problem.

Why?

Saliva, even more than your toothbrush, is your first and best line of defense against tooth decay. The film of saliva that coats your mouth protects your teeth against bacteria. It helps pass food along so it doesn’t sit in your mouth, attacking your teeth. It neutralizes acids that can break down tooth enamel and even brings in minerals to rebuild enamel.

Not only can insufficient saliva promote tooth decay, it can make it hard to break down food and increase the chance of infections like thrush. The less saliva you have, the less healthy your mouth is likely to be (and possibly, the worse your breath). And if it’s affecting your ability to access the nutrients in your food, the downstream affects can be even more severe.

What can I do to combat the effects of dry mouth?

First, you need to be sure you’re dealing with a perimenopause or menopause issue. Dry mouth can also be caused by Sjögren’s syndrome, diabetes, and several medications, including sedatives, heart medications, asthma and allergy meds, and antidepressants. Check with a doc to determine you’re not facing any of these other issues.

Burning mouth can also be caused by vitamin deficiencies, says Yours.co.uk, as well as gastric acid reflux and anemia, so it’s good to check for those as well. Plus, as we age, we can become more sensitive to substances or chemicals, so a change of toothpaste or mouthwash may be in order.

If hormonal changes are the culprit, lifestyle changes can make a big difference:

  1. Dehydration can contribute to dry mouth.
  2. Chew sugar-free gum or candy to produce more saliva (be careful not to overdo it with the artificial sweeteners, though, as they can cause gut problems of their own.)
  3. Check your meds. Your doc can tell you if any of those is a factor and perhaps prescribe an alternative.
  4. Be on the alert for signs of infection, like white patches or sore spots. See a doc or dentist if these appear.
  5. Smoking, alcohol, and drugs such as marijuana can worsen cottonmouth, so limit exposure to these.
  6. Salty, spicy, and acidic foods can make dry mouth worse.
  7. Delta Dental recommends rinsing your mouth 4-6 times daily with a solution of 2 teaspoons of baking soda in 8 ounces of water. This can reduce cavity causing bacteria.
  8. There are saliva substitutes you can suck on or spray into your mouth to keep it hydrated. Ask your doc or dentist about these.

According to a Penn State University study, smiling makes you seem more likeable, even more competent. Smiles are contagious, lifting everyone’s spirits (seriously, there’s science). Smiling a lot can actually rewire your brain to be more positive more often, turning positivity into your default response. And that can make you less stressed and more successful.

Perimenopause and menopause can be plenty challenging, so preserve your smile and your sanity! If you’re experiencing dry mouth, check with a doc or dentist, then make some changes, if necessary.

If you’ve dealt with oral issues as a result of perimenopause or menopause, what did you do about it? You know the drill – share the details with the community by leaving us a comment below, or talking to us on our Facebook page or in Midlife & Menopause Solutions, our closed Facebook group.

 

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Shannon Perry

Shannon is a celebrated author and global educator. Whether she’s interviewing a physician or producing a podcast, her appetite for research, facts, and truth culminates in credible health education and programming that women can rely on. An avid runner, cyclist, and climber, Shannon knows a thing or two about thriving in midlife and lives in Seattle with her cat, dog and boyfriend.

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