Gum Disease and Postmenopausal Women

***UPDATED: February 26, 2017*** In addition to helping women with menopause-related issues, like hot flashes, bone density and sexual satisfaction, scientists have found that estrogen therapy, that is used to treat osteoporosis, can lead to healthier teeth and gums. According to a recent article from Science Daily, as estrogen levels fall during menopause, women tend to become more susceptible to oral disease, leading to inflammation, pain, bleeding and even tooth loss. A recent study, published in the journal of the North American Menopause Society, found that the rate of women experiencing severe periodontitis was significantly lower among those who were being treated for osteoporosis with estrogen therapy.

“Osteoporosis can occur throughout the body, including the jaw, and lead to an increased risk of periodontal disease,” said Dr. JoAnn Pinkerton, NAMS executive director. “This study demonstrates that estrogen therapy, which has proven to be effective in preventing bone loss, may also prevent the worsening of tooth and gum disease. All women, but especially those with low estrogen or on bisphosphonate treatment for osteoporosis, should make good dental care a part of their healthy lifestyle.”

***UPDATED: September 30, 2015*** A team of researchers from the University of Granada in Spain recently investigated how menopausal changes in women might affect the severity of periodontal disease and tooth loss. It has been previously established that an association does exist between menopause and a number of oral changes, including a higher risk of inflammation, a lower salivary flow rate, and primary osteoporosis affecting the jawbones. According to a recent article from the Dental Tribune, the researchers recorded a number of periodontal parameters (number of teeth, plaque index, bleeding on probing, etc) and collected demographic data, medical and gynecological history, and oral health habits of 68 menopausal women and 34 premenopausal women suffering from chronic periodontitis. After analysis, the team did find that the number of teeth was significantly lower in postmenopausal women, but was not statistically significant after adjusting for age, smoking and plaque index. Therefore, the researchers concluded that menopause does not appear to influence the severity of periodontal disease and tooth loss significantly. The team also acknowledged that more studies would be needed to confirm their findings.

There is an established relationship between female hormones and oral health, and a new study has further linked the two. Recent research suggests that postmenopausal women who are at a higher risk of breaking bones may also have an increased risk for gum disease, according to a U.S. News article.

The study involved nearly 200 women, ranging in age from 51 to 80, all of whom had already gone through menopause. None of them smoked or had taken hormone replacement therapy, bone loss prevention drugs, or diabetes medications for at least five years. The women underwent a gum examination as well as had their fracture risk assessed on a Fracture Assessment Tool (FRAX).  Several variables were taken into account, such as weight, height, previous fractures, smoking, diabetes, and arthritis, many of which are also associated with gum disease. The women with the highest fracture risk scores were also found to display the strongest signs of gum disease, suggesting that fracture risk could be a reliable indicator of gum disease.

“More investigations are needed,” claimed Leena Palomo, director of the periodontics program at Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine in Ohio. “But the FRAX tool score can potentially be used as a way to find women at risk for gum disease.” In the first decade after the onset of menopause, women can suffer rapid bone loss as estrogen levels fall, which has also previously been associated with gum disease. Many health insurance policies don’t cover dental procedures, but it is Palomo’s opinion that gum disease treatments should be considering its link to a woman’s overall health.

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