There’s a lot for middle-aged women to think about while going through the menopausal transition. You’re faced with hot flashes, night sweats, drying skin, and a slowing metabolism that sets you up for weight gain. The last thing you want to be worried about during this stage of life is dental hygiene. However, researchers continue to find that how you care for your mouth may play a part in how well you age not only how well your mouth ages, but also your body and your brain.
A recently published study involved 3,166 adults at least 60 years of age or older who were participants in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA). As part of the study, the participants’ performances on memory tests and walking speeds were assessed. The researchers adjusted for a number of factors, including socio-demographic characteristics, existing health issues, physical health, health behaviors like smoking and drinking, depression, socioeconomic status, and biomarkers.
Their analysis found that people who no longer had any of their own teeth performed approximately 10 percent worse on both tests than participants who had at least some of their own teeth. Furthermore, the researchers found that a decline in mental and physical function was seen a decade earlier, more often among adults ages 60-74 who lost all of their teeth. This link was less pronounced in adults who were 75 years of age and older.
"Regardless of what is behind the link between tooth loss and decline in function, recognizing excessive tooth loss presents an opportunity for early identification of adults at higher risk of faster mental and physical decline later in their life," said Dr. George Tsakos, the study’s lead author and a faculty member in the University College London Epidemiology and Public Health. "There are many factors likely to influence this decline, such as lifestyle and psychosocial factors, which are amenable to change."
Another study from 2013 found that people who have poor oral hygiene or gum disease may increase their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. That study looked at brain samples of people who had dementia, as well as those who did not have it. The researchers found the presence of Porphyromonas gingivalis in the brain samples of the people who had Alzheimer’s disease.
Other studies have found that gum disease and even cold sores may increase the risk of cognitive dysfunction. Mouth health also may be linked osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, endocarditis (an infection in the inner lining of your heart), and diabetes.
Additionally, menopause’s hormonal changes can lead to aging of the oral tissues that leads to specific health issues. These changes include:
- Burning mouth syndrome, which can affect the tongue, lips, palate, gingival and areas of denture support. One study suggests that 33 percent of postmenopausal women reported this type of oral discomfort. Furthermore, more women who are going through the menopause transition (perimenopausal through postmenopausal) report oral discomfort than younger women.
- Dry mouth
- Changes in the mouth’s mucus
- Progressive periodontitis and osteoporosis
- Dental issues caused by eating disorders that result in self-induced vomiting as well as regurgitation of gastric contents
Therefore, it’s really important that you focus on maintaining your dental hygiene. Your regimen should include regularly brushing your teeth, flossing, eating a healthy diet, limiting snacks between meals, replacing your toothbrush every 3-4 months, and scheduling regular dental checkups.
Mayo Clinic. (2013). Oral health: A window to your overall health.
Mutneja, P., et al. (2012). Menopause and the oral cavity. Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism.
University College London. (2014). Tooth loss linked to slowing mind and body.
Whiteman, H. (2013). Alzheimer’s disease linked to poor dental health. Medical News Today.
Dorian Martin writes about various topics for HealthCentral, including Alzheimer’s disease, diet/exercise, menopause and lung cancer. Dorian is a health and caregiving advocate living in College Station, TX. She has a Ph.D. in educational human resource development. Dorian also founded I Start Wondering, which encourages people to embrace a life-long learning approach to aging. She teaches Sheng Zhen Gong, a form of Qigong. Follow Dorian on Twitter at @dorianmartin, Facebook or Instagram at @doriannmartin.