If you are a woman who is in the midst of menopause, then you need to know that hormone changes during menopause can affect your oral health. When your estrogen levels drop during menopause, this drop can trigger dry mouth, or xerostomia.
The American Dental Association (ADA) estimates that up to 64.8 percent of all Americans suffer from xerostomia. Unfortunately, many people who suffer from this condition do not realize they have the condition or do not realize the havoc it can wreak on their dental health.
Read on to learn the signs that your hormone changes during menopause may be causing dry mouth, the toll this condition can take on your dental health, and how to keep dry mouth from sabotaging your smile.
Signs of Dry Mouth
Some signs of dry mouth are relatively obvious, such as a gritty feeling in the mouth or frequent thirst. However, you may have other dry mouth signs that you don't realize are telltale signs of xerostomia at all.
Some little-known signs of dry mouth include:
- Hoarse voice. You have hundreds of salivary glands, many in your throat. When they produce less saliva, your voice can sound hoarse and raspy.
- Bad breath. Saliva rinses dead cells from the inside of your mouth. When not rinsed away properly by saliva, these cells can decompose and cause halitosis, or bad breath.
- Bitter taste in your mouth. The same factors that cause bad breath can also cause a bad taste in your mouth.
- Frequent oral thrush infections. Suffering from xerostomia increases your susceptibility to oral thrush infections.
Dry mouth signs may worsen at night when saliva production naturally decreases.
Oral Health Hazards of Dry Mouth
Dry mouth can range in severity from barely noticeable to debilitating. However, any reduction in saliva production can contribute to oral health problems.
Oral heath problems that dry mouth can cause or worsen include:
- Frequent cavities. Saliva contains an antibacterial agent that neutralizes some of the bacteria that can cause cavities. It also rinses food particles off teeth. When less saliva is produced by your mouth, you are more likely to develop cavities.
- Acid erosion. Saliva neutralizes the acids in foods you eat, which helps prevent acid erosion. Saliva also contains calcium, which enables it to help repair existing acid erosion.
- Gum disease. The antibacterial agent in saliva also helps kill bacteria that contributes to gum disease.
When dry mouth becomes severe, it can even make the simple acts of chewing and swallowing food difficult. Saliva begins the digestive process in your mouth and also lubricates your throat, aiding in swallowing.
Remedies for Menopausal Dry Mouth: What Works Best
There are many remedies for dry mouth, and some work better than others. While simply sipping water all day can help alleviate oral discomfort, water does not contain the antibacterial component of saliva that helps prevent cavities and gum disease. However, drinking at least 8-10 cups can help keep your dry mouth from worsening due to dehydration.
Also, avoid alcohol-filled mouthwash in your oral care routine to help prevent dental problems dry mouth can cause. The alcohol will dry out your mouth even more. Stick to an alcohol-free mouth rinse.
One of the best ways to treat dry mouth is to stimulate your own natural saliva production. You can stimulate your body to produce more saliva by chewing gum and eating sialagogue foods and spices.
The act of chewing anything, including gum, stimulates saliva production, and sialagogue foods and spices stimulate saliva production when you eat them as well. Just a few sialagogue foods include apples, endive, hard cheeses, ginger, fennel, and cayenne pepper.
Another way to combat dry mouth during menopause, along with many other menopause symptoms, is to obtain hormone replacement therapy. Your naturally declining estrogen level is supplemented with additional natural or artificial estrogen with this treatment.
If you are currently in the midst of menopause, then keep an eye out for the signs of dry mouth and, if you notice them, take steps to combat the toll dry mouth can take on your oral health. If your dry mouth becomes severe, your dentist may recommend a medication that stimulates saliva production.