Keeping Teeth Healthy
You know about the importance of regular dental checkups, brushing, and flossing. But did you know that menopause can present some special challenges to your dental health? As your body's natural estrogen supply diminishes in menopause, your gum tissues can become thinner and less elastic, and bone loss can contribute to the development of gingivitis and periodontitis — gum diseases in which the soft tissue of the jaw deteriorates around the roots of the teeth.
Loose Teeth May Be a Warning
If the bone density of the jaw itself diminishes, the socket of the tooth loosens its grip, and tooth loss can result. Osteoporosis in the rest of the body can be a silent process, but greater numbers of dentists are noticing loose teeth in their menopausal patients as the first overt sign of decreasing bone density in the body overall.
Gum disease is not just about losing your teeth. There is evidence that periodontal disease is actually a risk factor for coronary heart disease and stroke. Ongoing inflammation of gum tissue can introduce infection to the blood stream, where it can migrate to other organs and cause disease. Good dental hygiene and daily flossing can help you reduce this risk.
Make It a Habit
Some estimates show that over one-third of all women over the age of sixty have lost most or all of their teeth. To avoid joining that group, here's a simple plan for maintaining your dental health after forty:
See your dentist twice a year for checkups and cleaning.
Brush your teeth at least twice a day; use a soft toothbrush and floss afterward. Brush for two to five minutes, morning and evening (a third cleaning after lunch would be even better) — according to the Chicago Dental Society, it takes at least two minutes of brushing to remove plaque and bacteria.
Make sure you're getting enough calcium in your diet, and limit the amount of sugar you consume.
Pay special attention to signs of gum disease, such as bleeding or inflamed gums.
Drink plenty of water — thirty-two to sixty-four ounces every day. Water can help rinse bacteria from your gum tissue and keep the tissue moist and healthy.
Those “water spray” tooth cleaners aren't as effective as a soft-bristle toothbrush and dental floss at removing tartar and plaque buildup between teeth — the number one cause of gingivitis. Plaque-removing mouthwashes can help soften and loosen plaque. Take the time to clean your teeth right to avoid the pain (and potential tooth loss) of gum disease.
If you have the time to floss only once a day, do it at night, right before you go to sleep. That's also a good time to use anti-plaque or fluoride rinses; you'll have a six- to eight-hour period without eating or drinking, so you can absorb protective fluoride and antibacterial agents.