Did you know that women’s hormones make us more susceptible to dental issues at certain times? That’s why it’s so important to be diligent about our oral health throughout our lives. And because our oral health is so connected to our overall health, the benefits go beyond just our mouths.
First, you may be wondering how our oral health is connected to our overall health.
Here’s just one example: oral health problems, such as gum disease, might be a sign that you have other health problems, such as diabetes. Gum disease is an infection caused by plaque, which is a sticky film of bacteria that forms on your teeth. The bacteria can travel throughout your body, causing inflammation and systemic health issues.
As women, we have special health concerns.
Changing hormone levels at different stages in our lives affect our mouths as well as our bodies. Hormonal changes during our menstrual cycle, pregnancy and menopause can raise our risk of problems in our mouths. Regular brushing, flossing and dental visits can help prevent disease in our mouth and the rest of our body.
But unfortunately many of us often go without necessary dental care for many reasons, such as difficulty taking time off work or arranging childcare. Puberty is an example of a time when we’re at greater risk for dental issues. During puberty hormones can leave a teenage girl’s gums red, swollen and bleeding. In some cases, the gum’s over reaction to dental plaque may cause the gums to actually grow bigger.
Hormone levels go up and down throughout our menstrual cycle. During ovulation and a few days before we start our period, higher levels of progesterone may cause our gums to become swollen, red and bleed. These symptoms should subside after your period stops. But if they don’t, it may be a sign of something else and you should talk to your dentist about it.
You may also get canker sores more often during your period. Canker sores are small ulcers that have a whiter gray base and a red border, and they’ll heal on their own. Canker sores can’t be passed on to another person and are not the same thing as cold sores.
Hormonal birth control, such as the pill, can raise the levels of estrogen and progesterone in your body, which may make your gum sensitive, red or swollen. It’s very important to tell your dentist about all the medications you’re taking, including birth control.
Pregnancy is another time in a woman’s life where changing hormones can cause oral health problems, and these problems have been associated with adverse pregnancy outcomes, such as preterm birth and low birth weight. Also, poor maternal oral health can increase the risk of cavities for the child.
Some women will develop pregnancy gingivitis, which is a mild form of gum disease that causes the gums to be red, tender and sore. But the gum disease can progress to periodontitis, an infection of the tissues that hold your teeth in place. It’s usually caused by not brushing and flossing, or brushing and flossing in a way that allows the plaque to build up on the teeth and harden into tartar. Periodontitis can cause sore, bleeding gums, painful chewing and tooth loss. Women who don’t get regular dental care and women who smoke are more likely to have periodontitis.
Another problem during pregnancy is wearing down of your tooth. If you have morning sickness, the stomach acid that comes up during vomiting can erode your tooth enamel which is the hard protective coating on the outside of our teeth. Heartburn, another common issue can also wear down the tooth enamel over time if stomach acid is coming up into your mouth. To prevent enamel erosion, don’t brush your teeth right away after you get sick but instead rinse your mouth with one teaspoon of baking soda mixed in a cup of water
Whether it’s safe to go to the dentist when pregnant?
Yes. Keeping up with your dental care is considered a very important part of prenatal care. Tell your dentist that you’re pregnant and when you’re due. She knows how to protect you and your baby and how to make you comfortable. She also knows what procedures can be done to keep or get you healthy and what things can wait until after you welcome your baby. Your dentist will also teach you how to care for your infant’s mouth when he arrives to get him off to a healthy start.
Lastly, there’s menopause.
Menopause is a huge change in a woman’s life and a woman’s mouth. It’s all related to decreasing estrogen. Women may experience altered taste increased sensitivity or a burning sensation in their mouth during or after menopause. The lower levels of estrogen also decrease the amount of saliva or spit you have in your mouth. Saliva cleans and protects your teeth and rinses away the cavity-causing bacteria, so without it, you’re at higher risk of developing cavities. Dry mouth can also cause sore and sensitive gums, ulcers and infections.
As women, we need to protect our oral health, and here are a few tips:
- See your dentist every six months or sooner if recommended.
- Have a good dental hygiene routine.
- Brush your teeth twice a day for two minutes with a fluoridated toothpaste.
- Floss and use alcohol-free mouthwash at least once a day.
- Stick to a healthy diet and limit sugars and starches especially in between meals.
- Don’t graze all day or sip all day on any beverage other than water.
- Replace soda juices, energy drinks and sports drinks with water.
- Treat yourself to a new toothbrush every three months or sooner if the bristles are worn.
- Avoid smoking, chewing tobacco and e-cigarettes and limit your alcohol intake.
Practicing, regular at-home oral care, as well as visiting your dentist for regular preventive care will have wide-ranging positive effects not only on your oral health, but your overall health, too. Remember to be honest with your dentist and openly communicate about any concerns or any health conditions you may have. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.