The hormone shifts women experience during menopause and perimenopause can cause some unexpected developments. The negative effects that menopause and perimenopause have on aging teeth are among those unexpected developments for many women.
These issues can manifest in a few different ways. Menopause can increase the instances of xerostomia, a condition better known as dry mouth. The lack of saliva from this condition is not only uncomfortable, but it can also increase your risk of getting cavities or developing gum disease. People with dry mouths may find relief by drinking plenty of water or enjoying sugarless hard candy or gum. They and should also avoid caffeine, especially caffeinated drinks. If these measures are ineffective, contact your dentist. They can examine your mouth and recommend a safe and effective treatment plan.
Another aspect of menopause that affects the teeth is bone loss. Osteoporosis can affect the bones of the jaw just as adversely as it can the other bones in the body. The portion of the tooth that is visible above the jaw makes up only a third of your actual tooth. The other two-thirds of the tooth is buried in the jawbone to anchor the structure into position. Loss of bone in the jaw can lead to loose teeth, infection, and even tooth loss.
The Pulp of the Tooth
Inside each of your teeth is a soft core called the pulp. The tissue it is composed of has nerves and blood vessels running through it, feeding the living tooth. When cavities, cracks in the teeth, and other injuries to the outside of the tooth allow contamination of the pulp, it can sometimes lead to painful toothaches. Ongoing tooth infections have even been linked to an increase in the risk of heart disease. To treat an infection or remove the dead pulp, your dentist may recommend either a root canal or an extraction.
What is a Root Canal?
A root canal is a surgical procedure designed to remove the dead or infected pulp from the innermost layer of the tooth. This relieves the pain and prevents further harm while leaving the structure of the tooth in place.
The mouth is numbed, and a small hole is made in the outer tooth. The pulp is completely removed from the tooth, leaving it hollow. The inside of the tooth is then cleaned again to remove any trace of infection, then filled with a replacement filling. The patient is able to keep their tooth which also protects the structure of the jaw. However, due to loss of blood flow, the tooth may be more brittle than it was before the procedure, and it is not immune to developing new cavities. New cavities may not cause the same amount of pain as in a living tooth but can weaken the structure of the tooth, necessitating an extraction in the future.
Root canal treatments have a high success rate, and recovery time is usually fairly minimal. Most patients can expect pain for 2-5 days after the procedure, but typically mild enough for over-the-counter painkillers to manage.
Why a root canal is preferable
A root canal is typically preferable to extraction because of the ability to keep the original tooth. Not only does that allow the individual to keep their natural smile, but it also maintains the integrity of the entire jaw. A root canal removes the pulp, but it leaves the root in place. Once the root is removed during an extraction, the exposed bone in the jaw begins to deteriorate, putting additional teeth at risk. If not mitigated by dentures, bridgework, or implants, the remaining teeth also start to shift, eventually altering the bite and weakening the overall structure of the mouth.
On a financial note:
In many cases, a root canal initially looks like the more expensive option of the two. However, the cost of the dentures, bridgework or dental implants needed to replace the missing tooth or teeth can end up making extraction a more expensive route in the long run.
What is Tooth Extraction?
While a root canal is generally preferable to extracting the tooth, sometimes your dentist will recommend that the tooth be removed. Situations where extraction is required may include:
- Dental crack that extends past the gumline
- A structurally damaging or large cavity
- Recurring infections
- Crowding of teeth
- Weakened or brittle enamel
Typically, a local anesthetic is adequate to numb the pain of extraction, but some dental offices also offer general anesthetic or sedation dentistry for this type of procedure. After cutting away any gum or bone tissue that covers the tooth, the dentist will pull the tooth from its socket using forceps. Some hard-to-pull teeth may have to be removed in fragments.
A blood clot quickly forms, and the dentist places a gauze pad into the socket. Some situations may call for a stitch or two to close the gum edges, while others may be left open.
It can take a couple of weeks or more to recover from a tooth extraction, and patients may be offered prescription pain medication. It is crucial that patients keep their mouths as clean as possible during the healing period, or infections can develop in the open wound.
Options for replacement
Dentists frequently recommend putting a replacement tooth in the mouth to prevent further jaw deterioration due to the missing tooth. There are several ways you can have your tooth replaced, each with its pros and cons.
False teeth are cemented onto the teeth next to them, holding them into place. A bridge has a secure hold and doesn’t need to be removed but can remove healthy enamel from the teeth it is connected to and can be very expensive.
False teeth that you can take out and put back in as needed. They do not require the removal of enamel or invasive surgery, and they tend to be more affordable than the other options. Dentures are also more challenging to get used to, more likely to shift or move in your mouth and have to be removed and cleaned each day.
A screw is inserted into the jaw, and a crown is placed over it. This is a permanent replacement option, but it requires multiple visits and quite a lot of recovery and healing time to make sure it’s done correctly. It is, however, the only option that mitigates the loss of bone in the jaw that is typically seen with an extraction. Excessive bone loss in the jaw can sometimes make this procedure impossible.
If your teeth have been damaged or developed an infection, talk to your dentist immediately. They will be able to examine your mouth and help determine the best way to alleviate your pain and suffering. The earlier you begin treatment, the more likely it is that you can keep your own teeth. If extraction is your best alternative, there are many ways to restore both the appearance and function of missing teeth.