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Estrogen gives older women something to smile about

by Chris Tedeschi

Women who undergo estrogen replacement therapy (ERT) have a decreased risk of tooth loss later in life, according to a recent study by researchers at the School of Medicine.

“The study demonstrates one more benefit of estrogen replacement therapy,” said Annlia Paganini-Hill, a research professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine who has been studying the long-term effects of estrogen replacement among a large group of residents in an Orange County retirement community.

Paganini-Hill and her colleagues examined the relationship between ERT and dental health using information from the Leisure World cohort, a group of seniors who have been giving USC information about their health for the last 15 years.

The dental health study found that risks for tooth loss and edentia, or loss of all teeth, are lower for estrogen users than for non-users. “If you’ve taken estrogen replacement therapy, then your risk of losing all your teeth is about two-thirds that of a person who’s never taken estrogen,” said Paganini-Hill. “And if you’ve taken estrogen for over 15 years, your risk is only about 50 percent.”

ERT has been previously shown to decrease the risk of osteoporosis in older women. Osteoporosis causes bones to become more susceptible to fractures; it can also weaken the jawbone. Women with osteoporosis are three times more likely to lose teeth than healthy women of the same age. “If you lose bone [tissue] in your jaw,” said Paganini-Hill, “you can’t hold teeth in.”

The American public spends $1.5 billion each year for therapy to treat the loss of tooth support, and only a fraction of the people who need treatment actually receive it. Estrogen replacement and better dental health might eventually reduce this cost.

The Leisure World research has been going on since 1981, when Paganini-Hill enlisted nearly 14,000 seniors to take part in a wide-ranging study about health, fitness and lifestyle. “A large portion of the women have used estrogen replacement therapy, so we can easily study its effect,” she said. More than 8,000 of the original Leisure World study participants – including about 5,000 women – are still living and are still providing valuable health information for the survey.

In the past several years, Paganini-Hill and her group have studied the effect of estrogen replacement therapy on conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, osteoporosis and heart disease. They plan to continue the project by examining the effects of estrogen replacement on eye disease and colon cancer.

Most of the Leisure World research, including the dental survey, has been done through the mail using elaborate health questionnaires. Occasionally, study volunteers are asked to come in for examinations, blood tests and other simple medical tests.u0000

Estrogen gives older women something to smile about

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