As the new year approaches, many women focus on improving their health and well being. It’s important to know that when it comes to a woman’s health, there is a unique link between the various hormonal changes that women experience and their oral health.
This surprising connection actually makes women more susceptible to oral health problems during the different stages of their lives.
Furthermore, the health of a woman’s mouth can be an indication of her body’s overall health.
Here’s what every woman should know about the connection between overall health, hormonal changes and the related oral health risks throughout the course of her life.
Adolescence: Puberty & Menses
During adolescence, puberty begins to occur and the female body starts producing estrogen and progesterone at much higher rates. As if adolescence wasn’t already hard enough – this hormonal change leads to greater blood flow to the gums. In turn, this causes gum tissue to react differently to plaque, making it more swollen, tender, and red in appearance. This may cause added bleeding when brushing and necessitate the need for greater attention to oral hygiene practices, like brushing and flossing.
When adolescent girls begin menses, this also causes more hormonal changes. Progesterone increases during the menstrual cycle, which can lead to swollen and bleeding gums, engorged salivary glands, and canker sores. Many women also experience menstruation gingivitis, which will happen one to two days before the start of one’s period and resolves itself.
Dr. Kellee N. Kattleman Stanton reports that often the hormonal change can commonly occur at a time that an adolescent begins orthodontic treatment. The brackets, bands, and wires increase the retention of food on the teeth & removal of plaque is more difficult. This may be one of the reasons that teenagers are at risk for developing red, puffy gums during orthodontic treatment that in some cases leads to a permanent hypertrophic change to the gums that can only be treated with surgery. Excellent oral hygiene is the key, and often more frequent cleanings by dental professionals are recommended.
Adulthood: Contraception & Pregnancy
In early adulthood, the use of oral contraceptives as well as becoming pregnant can impact a woman’s oral health. Birth control pills use the synthetic hormones estrogen, progesterone, or both to create similar conditions to pregnancy in your body. This can lead to inflamed gums as well as gingivitis. It can also increase the chances of developing a dry socket in the case of a tooth extraction, such as the removal of wisdom teeth.
With pregnancy, women can experience swollen gums and gingivitis similar to those caused by birth control or seen in the teenage years. In addition, women may also experience “pregnancy tumors,” or large lumps that are non-cancerous and grow in the mouth as a result of swollen gums reacting to irritants. Generally, these will shrink after pregnancy. Women who have periodontal disease could go into early labor and give birth to a baby with a low weight. Finally, morning sickness during pregnancy can cause tooth erosion.
Bee Xiong, Registered Dental Assistant, encourages any woman to reach out to a trusted dental professional to address any concerns that she may have, and don’t just wait for it to get better. Often a slight change to daily brushing/flossing routines can make a difference.
Later in Life: Menopause, Osteoporosis, & Thyroid Disorders
As women enter the later stages of adulthood, they will experience menopause. Menopause can lead to gums that are sensitive and sore. It can also cause dry mouth, which involves a burning sensation in the mouth as well as changes in how you perceive taste. Post-menopausal women are also at risk for osteoporosis, which causes not only bone loss but also tooth loss.
Other concerns of older women include the thyroid disorders hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism. While hyperthyroidism most often occurs in a woman’s 20s and 30s, it can also appear in women ages 70-80. Hyperthyroidism can lead to gum disease, burning mouth syndrome, progressive destruction of the teeth, and excess thyroid tissue on the tongue. Hypothyroidism, the opposite condition, commonly occurs after menopause and can lead to swollen salivary glands, a change in the sense of taste, inflammation of the tongue, severe enlargement of the tongue, and poor gum health.
At Every Age
Conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and some eating disorders are linked with oral health issues.
“A growing amount of research indicates that oral health, especially periodontal health, is linked to systemic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and even an elevated risk of stroke,” says Dr. Kellee N. Kattleman Stanton. “Women should monitor their oral health more than ever before.”
How to Maintain or Improve Your Oral Health Regardless of Age
Regular dental exams can help you maintain proper oral health and help you steer clear of related health complications. In addition, a woman can follow these steps to help maintain or improve her oral health at every stage in her life.
1. Brush & floss twice each day
2. Don’t smoke
3. Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet
4. Control blood glucose levels by limiting sugar intake
5. Report worrisome changes in your mouth, teeth and gums to your dentist or medical professional right away
6. Maintain a healthy weight
7. Visit your dentist at least twice each year for an exam and cleaning
Dr. Kellee N. Kattleman Stanton, founder of George Dental Group, has been named a Minneapolis, St. Paul top dentist. Bee Xiong, is a Licensed Dental Assistant, and a Team member at George Dental Group. Conveniently located in Eagan, MN, George Dental Group is just minutes from the MSP airport and Mall of America.