During menopause, many women suffer from dry mouth, a symptom that’s exactly what it sounds like: having a sticky, dry feeling in the mouth. While everyone has a dry mouth once in a while from being nervous or stressed out, dry mouth in middle-aged or older women is likely brought on by a change in hormone levels. The condition may cause trouble chewing, tasting or speaking, and though these symptoms sound alarming, rest assured that they can often be alleviated.
Explaining dry mouth
As a woman enters menopause, her body’s endocrine system undergoes a dramatic shift that results in a drop in estrogen and progesterone, according to health experts. These fluctuating hormone levels impact the salivary glands, often leaving menopausal and postmenopausal women with a persistent feeling of dryness in the mouth.
In all its forms, dry mouth is triggered by the lack of saliva. Saliva plays a bigger role in oral hygiene than you might think, as it works to moisten our mouths and wash away food debris from meals. Think of it as a natural cleansing agent – controlling bacteria and protecting the teeth against plaque buildup.
Yet without enough saliva, the mouth turns into a breeding ground for bacteria. Not only can dry mouth cause discomfort along with bad breath, it can also increase your risk for gingivitis (gum disease), tooth decay and other mouth infections, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. What’s more, your body might not be getting the nutrients it needs if you cannot chew and swallow certain foods properly.
According to a study from the National Institute of Health, roughly 20 percent of people experience dry mouth, medically known as xerostamia. In menopausal women, estrogen levels fall and, in turn, reduce the moisture in the mucus membranes lining the mouth and nose.
Burning mouth syndrome
Some people complain of burning in the mouth too, since the nerve endings become more sensitive. Menopause may also lead to burning mouth syndrome (BMS), a frustrating condition that results in a burning sensation in the tongue, lips and mouth. While it is a very rare problem, the main demographic who grapples with it is middle-aged to older women.
Both dry mouth and BMS are considered separate medical conditions, even though they have overlapping side effects. On a day-to-day basis, the two may alter how some foods taste. Again, the culprit is hormone imbalance: Decreasing hormones can affect your taste buds and make you more sensitive to pain.
What can you do?
Chances are, this form of dry mouth is nothing to be concerned about. Those who suffer from it might opt for an oral rinse to restore mouth moisture. Another step to improve saliva flow is to drink plenty of water to help keep your mouth moist. If that proves fruitless, try the following:
- For those who drink coffee or tea religiously, it’s probably time to cut back. These beverages dry out the mouth, exacerbating the problem.
- Chew sugarless gum or suck on sugar-free hard candy to kick-start saliva production. Cinnamon, citrus or mint-flavored candies are good choices.
- Steer clear of tobacco and alcohol, both of which dry out the mouth and trigger other oral health problems.
- Take extra care of your mouth. If you weren’t already brushing and flossing twice a day, it’s time to start. Brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste following the “two-and-two” rule: twice a day for two minutes each session.
- At night, use a humidifier. Your mouth will thank you.
- Once you get in bed, try breathing through your nose instead of your mouth as much as possible. This will help prevent the air from drying out your saliva.
If the problem persists, talk with your physician or dentist. Patients whose salivary glands are not working right but can still produce some saliva will likely be prescribed a medicine that stimulates the glands. A doctor or dentist might also suggest that you use artificial saliva to keep your mouth wet.