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A woman’s mouth can say a lot about osteoporosis

Noticing signs of osteoporosisYour dentist may be the first health professional to suspect you have osteoporosis and refer you to a physician. Osteoporosis weakens bones by reducing their density. Although the disorder can strike any gender at any age, the vast majority of osteoporosis patients are women over age 50.

Osteoporosis is difficult to detect, and most patients remain undiagnosed until their bone density decreases to the point that a fracture occurs. However, your dentist may notice symptoms of tooth loss or gum disease that indicate the early stages of osteoporosis. That’s one reason why it’s important to visit your dentist regularly and provide your complete medical history, even if you don’t think it relates to your oral health.

Signs of osteoporosis

Your dentist may detect the first stages of osteoporosis based on a review of your medical history and the results of a clinical and x-ray exam. Your medical record provides information about risk factors such as genetics, calcium deficiency, smoking, menopause, excessive caffeine or alcohol intake and an inactive lifestyle. In addition, several other signs may alert your dentist to the possibility of osteoporosis:

  • Bone loss in the jaw and around teeth. Bone loss in the mouth may be a sign of bone loss in other parts of the body. Year-to-year comparisons of dental x-rays may indicate a decrease in jawbone density and the bone around your teeth, revealing advancing stages of the disease.
  • Tooth loss. People with low bone mineral density tend to lose more teeth.
  • Loose or ill-fitting dentures. Bone loss may become so severe that it may be impossible to create functional dentures. Without the aid of dentures to chew many types of food, older patients may suffer severe nutritional deficiencies. In addition, ill-fitting dentures can lead to mouth sores and difficulty speaking.
  • Gum disease. This condition contributes to bone loss, and may provide a clue to the diagnosis of an underlying disease such as osteoporosis.

Tips on preventing osteoporosis

Help prevent osteoporosis with these lifestyle changes:

  • Get enough calcium each day through your diet (dairy, calcium-fortified foods, broccoli and almonds) or supplements (women: 1,200mg; men: 800mg; anyone over age 65: 1,500mg).
  • Add vitamin D to your diet.
  • Exercise (especially weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening exercises).
  • Quit smoking.
  • Decrease your caffeine and alcohol intake.

If you or your dentist suspect you have osteoporosis, be sure to visit your primary health care practitioner as soon as possible. New medications are available for prevention and treatment, and early intervention is the key to managing both your oral and overall health.

Related reading

Article: Patient education: osteoporosis prevention and treatment (Beyond the Basics). UpToDate.
Last updated: April 2017

The oral health information on this website is intended for educational purposes only. You should always consult a licensed dentist or other qualified health care professional for any questions concerning your oral health.