Women’s Oral Health
While women tend to take better care of their oral health than men do, women’s oral health is not markedly better than men’s.
This is because hormonal fluctuations throughout a woman’s life can affect many tissues, including gum tissue. Women’s oral health can be influenced by their various life stages. For many women, these changes are directly related to surges in sex hormone levels, such as in puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, lactation and menopause. Women are also more likely to be diagnosed with TMJ (temperomandibular joint disorder), myofacial pain, eating disorders and Sjögren’s syndrome (which causes dry mouth).
The surge in hormones that occurs during puberty may cause swollen gums, especially during menstruation. Mouth sores also can develop. Girls may experience sensitive gums that react more to irritants.
Oral contraceptives mimic pregnancy because they contain progesterone or estrogen. Therefore gingivitis may occur with long-term use. Women who use birth control pills are twice as likely to develop dry socket (a complication of tooth extraction). Consult your dentist before scheduling major dental procedures.
Pregnant women have a risk for increased inflammation of the gums because of the surge in estrogen and progesterone. If irritating plaque is not removed, it can cause gingivitis: red, swollen, tender gums that are more likely to bleed. In some cases, large lumps called pregnancy tumors–inflammatory, non-cancerous growths–can develop when swollen gums react strongly to irritants. Usually these tumors shrink soon after the pregnancy is over. Women with periodontal disease may be at risk for pre-term, low-birth weight babies. If a woman experiences morning sickness, it is important to neutralize the acid caused by vomiting, which causes tooth erosion. Rinse with water, or if possible use a paste made of baking soda and water, rubbing it on the teeth. After 30 seconds, rinse off, then brush and floss.
During menopause, some women can experience dry mouth, a burning sensation, and changes in taste. Gums can become sore and sensitive. Maintain adequate daily fluid intake.
Diet pills and certain medications (over-the-counter and prescriptions) can decrease salivary flow. This puts patients at risk for cavities, gum disease and discomfort. Patients with eating disorders, such as bulemia (self-induced vomiting) are more noticeable because the episodes of binging and purging cause erosion on the backside of the upper front teeth. An additional sign is sores that appear at the corners of the mouth. Smoking also creates a higher risk for periodontal disease.
As a woman, it is wise to adhere to good oral hygiene. Make sure to brush with fluoride toothpaste at least twice a day and after each meal when possible, and floss, especially at night. To help avoid problems, your dentist may request to see you more frequently during different life stages.