You probably knew that once women enter menopause, they’re more likely to have problems with bone loss and fractures. But a recent study shows that common tools used to determine fracture risk may have a secondary use – determining whether to refer women for periodontal care.

The Bone Loss Study

The research, overseen by doctors at the Cleveland Clinic’s Women’s Health Institute, at the Cleveland Clinic and through Case Western Reserve University’s Periodontics program, was begun because one of the researchers had been analyzing the relationship between postmenopausal women, bone loss and periodontal disease. During this time, estrogen levels also fall, causing inflammation in the mouth’s tissues. The researcher wanted to determine whether measurable bone loss and increased risk of periodontal disease were related.

The study looked at 191 women between the ages of 51 and 80 who had gone through menopause within the past ten years, were non-smokers, and had not received hormone replacement therapy, diabetes medications or bone loss medications for at least five years. After an initial fracture assessment and periodontal checkup, the women were divided into low- and high-risk groups.

The Results

The study used a common assessment tool called a Fracture Assessment Risk Tool, commonly referred to as FRAX. A FRAX assessment includes measurements such as prior fractures, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, smoking, weight and height, along with other measurements. Because several of these markers are also common to periodontal disease, the researchers thought it would be a good way to test their theory.

The study found that women who had the highest risk assessments through FRAX also had the highest number and most severe cases of periodontal disease. The study verified that a high-risk FRAX score suggested an equal risk of developing periodontal disease.

What it Means to You

Gum disease is more than just a problem in the mouth. It’s been linked to a wide variety of health conditions, including diabetes, stroke, heart disease, and in younger women, premature and low-birth-weight babies. Your gums act as a defensive structure, keeping the microorganisms in your mouth from getting into your bloodstream. If left untreated, gum disease gets more expensive to treat and can cause more serious health problems.

The first stage, gingivitis, typically includes inflammation in the mouth leading to red, sore or bleeding gums. On the bright side, gingivitis is reversible with regular dental care. Periodontal disease, or periodontitis, loosens the gum’s grip on the tooth, creating pockets where material and organisms can build up, providing channels for disease-causing organisms to enter your bloodstream. It also increases the chance that you’ll loose the teeth involved along with some of your jaw bone’s density. It cannot be reversed without outside intervention.