London: Eileen Adamson took pride in reaching 50 without suffering a single tooth cavity. She put it down to her strict oral health regime, including twice-weekly flossing and dental check-ups at least every three months. Then, two months ago, her dentist spotted signs of gum disease – for the first time in her life.
‘My gums were inflamed and there were signs they were starting to recede,’ says the teacher, from Dumfries. ‘I also noticed my mouth became unbearably dry. I was waking up several times gasping for a drink in the night, which left me exhausted. When I drank too much coffee, I’d get this strange metallic, bitter flavor.’
Eileen’s dentist suggested she try a different toothpaste made without certain compounds that can irritate the mouth. But a month and a half on, there was no relief – so she arranged an appointment with a nutritionist who specializes in menopause.
‘I went to see her for advice on what to eat to maintain my muscle mass post-menopause,’ says Eileen, who had her last period two years ago. ‘When I mentioned the problems with my mouth, she immediately said it was probably menopause-related. I was shocked.
‘It all started to make sense, given I had also been suffering hot flushes for a year, and blood tests taken a few months prior confirmed my hormones were of menopausal levels. But I thought, “Why did no one tell me this might happen?”’
Studies show up to half of the 13 million menopausal women in the UK suffer oral-health symptoms such as painful gums, dry mouth, tooth loss, and even phantom tastes – and that these are as common as hot flushes and memory lapses.
But experts say too few healthcare professionals are aware of the link, leaving patients batted back and forth between dentists and GPs, and failing to get the treatment that could help. The Mail on Sunday approached ten GPs to ask if they would consider menopause as a potential cause of one of the above problems. Only half said yes, and were aware of available treatments.
Dr. Uchenna Okoye, clinical director of London Smiling and former dental clinician at St George’s Hospital in London, sees this scenario ‘most days’ in her clinic. She says: ‘Doctors and other dentists don’t even consider the menopause could have anything to do with it.
‘Last week I saw a patient who’d been told by her dentist she’d have to wear dentures at the age of 53. She had terrible gum disease and her teeth were moving about, but she was made to feel ashamed as if she’d failed to look after her teeth properly. When I mentioned menopause, it was like a lightbulb moment.’
Dr. Okoye recommends that patients request hormone replacement therapy (HRT) from their GP, to replenish the sex hormones like estrogen and progesterone that diminish after menopause.