A decrease in saliva is one of the lesser-known effects of the decline in estrogen levels that menopause brings. You may also experience altered taste—sweets may taste metallic or bitter—and a new sensitivity to hot or cold foods, says Sally Cram, DDS, a Washington, D.C., periodontist and spokesperson for the American Dental Association. While many women simply get used to the feeling of dryness, they shouldn’t: Saliva maintains the right acid/alkalinity (aka pH balance) in your mouth and is necessary for neutralizing the acid produced by harmful oral bacteria. That’s why a dry mouth predisposes you to cavities and gum disease.
Many over-the-counter products effectively combat dry mouth, as can chewing sugarless gum. But what you eat also affects the amount of saliva—hence, the acid level—in your mouth. A study published this spring in the journal General Dentistry found that consuming Cheddar cheese (but not milk or sugar-free yogurt) increased saliva production and reduced the acidity of the mouth. In addition, certain compounds found in any cheese may adhere to tooth enamel, protecting teeth from acid.
Since cheese has a lot of calories, no one is suggesting you make it a centerpiece of your diet. But a small cube as a snack, after meals or in between, could improve your oral health, says Jeffrey Cole, DDS, president of the Academy of General Dentistry. Cram suggests another option if you suffer from dry mouth: Reduce your intake of foods that make it worse, such as alcohol (especially red wine), coffee, tea, soda and mouth rinses that contain alcohol.