One life stage that women experience but men do not is menopause. Menopausal hormones affect the body in many ways, and one effect that may arise is hormones dry mouth. Dry mouth, also known as xerostomia, is a symptom that can stem from various causes including the use of certain medications, medical conditions (like Sjogren's Syndrome) and body changes. When estrogen and progesterone decrease in perimenopausal and menopausal women, the environment may decrease the production of the salivary glands. Dry mouth then may result in oral and overall health concerns.
When the mouth has inadequate amounts or quality of saliva it may make eating, chewing, speaking and swallowing difficult. Research shows that dry mouth may cause a metallic taste. Inadequate amounts of saliva may also lead to gum disease and tooth decay.
Saliva acts as a lubricant for chewing, and a shortage of saliva may affect a women's nutrition. There are components in the saliva that naturally break down nutrients for the body, such as the enzyme amylase. Amylase is the most prevalent enzyme in human saliva and helps break down starches. One study concluded that if there isn't enough amylase in the saliva's initial breakdown process, starches may be more difficult to digest.
There are certain physical problems that arise when there is inadequate saliva. Oral ulcerations, sloughing of gum tissue and dental diseases can occur when the mouth is too dry. Regular dietary acids from fruits and vegetables may burn the tissue, making chewing and talking painful. Saliva is also the main cleanser of the oral environment. When plaque and food particles are not cleansed by saliva throughout the day, bacterial growth increases, resulting in a greater incidence of periodontal disease and dental caries (cavities).
Dry mouth is often seen as a side effect of certain health conditions. According to studies, autoimmune conditions, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and Sjogren's syndrome, can cause dry mouth, further complicating the attempts to find the oral-systemic causes of the condition. Also, hormonal fluctuation and estrogen deficiencies present in menopausal and post-menopausal women often decrease salivary production, causing dry mouth. Researchers believe that osteoporosis, dry mouth and periodontal disease can all contribute to tooth loss in this group of women.
The lack of calcium in the mouth combined with the overall loss of calcium due to osteoporosis, may severely weaken the jawbone. A weak jawbone may not provide a strong enough base for the teeth, so the teeth may fall out. Dental implants and bridges are options to replace teeth, but they need to be anchored to a stable jawbone. So, unfortunately, menopausal and post-menopausal women may have to seek pre-treatment options like a bone grafting or bone augmentation procedure.
Women who exhibit symptoms of dry mouth are advised to contact their dental professional for advice on over-the-counter and prescription options for increasing salivary production. There are also specially formulated toothpastes and mouthwashes for people with dry mouth. Remember to brush twice a day, floss daily and visit your dentist and physician regularly to track all the oral and body changes caused by menopause.