Can postmenopausal estrogen treatments for osteoporosis also help prevent periodontitis in older women? A recent study seems to suggest that it can. Researchers examined women in Brazil who had gone through menopause and were taking estrogen to prevent osteoporosis and bone loss. They found that estrogen therapy might lower the risk of gum infection and be helpful for healthier teeth and gums.
Estrogen Therapy and Bone Health
During and following menopause, women’s bodies produce less new bone tissue, leading to a higher risk of developing osteoporosis. Lower levels of the estrogen hormone contribute to more brittle, fragile bones. At this time in their lives, women will frequently be placed on estrogen therapy by their doctors to prevent or treat osteoporosis. Although this weakened bone condition is linked to both osteoporosis and gum infection (periodontal disease), hormonal therapy is primarily used for the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis.
Details of the Study
The researchers for this study looked at information for 482 postmenopausal women in Brazil who were given bone density scans between 2009 and 2011. Women in the study were between 50 and 87 years of age, having gone through menopause around age 47. This group included 113 women who were treating osteoporosis, either with vitamin D supplements and calcium, with estrogen only, or with estrogen and another hormone, progestin. It was found that severe periodontitis was 44 percent lower in the group taking estrogen to treat osteoporosis. Severe gum disease was defined as the inner layer of the gums being pulled away from the teeth, with gaps of at least 5 millimeters between the jaw and the gums around a minimum of 30 percent of their teeth.
Periodontitis, Tooth Loss and Age
For older adults, periodontal disease is a major cause of tooth loss. When the gums recede from the teeth, debris can collect that can become infected, spreading plaque below the gum line. If enough gum tissue and bone becomes lost, teeth may become loose enough to fall out. There are other possible reasons for increased periodontal disease among the elderly, such as lack of proper dental hygiene due to mobility issues or poor diet; however, brittle bones may play a role.
The Possible Link Between Estrogen and Oral Health
Although the study found a correlation between taking estrogen and a lower risk of gum disease, the research isn’t conclusive. For one, it did not show that estrogen treatment after menopause directly prevented gum disease. In the study, the severity of gum disease between women using estrogen and those not using it was small enough that it may have been due to chance. It also bears noting that women who were being treated for osteoporosis with estrogen were more likely to have seen a dentist within the two years leading up to the survey. This could also account for fewer cases of severe periodontitis. However, even with these caveats, the findings seem to suggest that future studies are warranted.
A Word of Caution
Since estrogen therapy comes with its own risks, the decision to begin this form of treatment should always be made in consultation with your doctor. Other considerations, such as a family history of breast cancer or heart disease, may factor into this decision.