Everyone needs to look after their oral health, but for women, specific periods in their life can affect their oral health significantly. Changes in female hormone levels during puberty, menstruation, pregnancy and menopause exaggerate the way gums react to the plaque. Since gum disease is usually painless, many women may not even realise they have it until it reaches an advanced state. As gum disease is a bacterial infection, it can enter the bloodstream and may be a factor in causing other health complications like:
- Heart disease: People with gum disease may be more at risk for heart disease and have nearly twice the risk of having a fatal heart attack.
- Stroke: Few studies found a casual relationship of oral infections as a risk factor for stroke.
- Diabetes: People with diabetes are more likely to have gum disease and may make it more difficult for diabetics to control their blood sugar. Gum disease may also be a risk factor for diabetes, even in otherwise healthy individuals.
- Respiratory problems: Bacteria that grow in the oral cavity can travel to the lungs causing respiratory disease such as pneumonia – especially in people with gum disease.
- Pregnancy outcomes: Pregnant women who have gum disease may be more likely to have a baby born too early or too small. Gum disease may also trigger increased levels of biological fluids that induce labour.
Women can expect their dental health to change during these specific periods of their life in the following ways:
- Puberty: The increase in oestrogen and progesterone causes blood vessels to dilate which can affect gums and can cause bleeding, swelling and redness. The changes in hormones affect the bacteria in the mouth at this time, meaning that cavities and bad breath can develop. Ulcers are also more common in teenagers than children.
- Menstruation: In the lead up to their period, some women experience swollen or sensitive gums that are prone to bleeding, while others can experience mouth ulcers or cold sores. Once menstruation begins, these symptoms commonly disappear.
- Oral contraceptive: Taking an oral contraceptive is common for many women. The synthetic hormones in these tablets can cause gingivitis, an inflammation of the gums, which results from an excessive build up of plaque.
- Pregnancy: The significant changes in hormones during pregnancy make oral health care a priority for women during this time. Gingivitis is, again, common in pregnant women, but also ‘pregnancy tumours’, which are non-cancerous, benign growths that develop when swollen gums become irritated. Normally, these tumours will naturally shrink and disappear after the baby’s birth, although if they interfere with brushing or are uncomfortable, the dentist may decide to remove them.
- Lactation: There are many benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and baby, but the period of lactation can also negatively impact a woman’s oral health. Adapting to life with a new baby can often mean that women skip brushing and flossing their teeth, resulting in an increased likelihood of cavities and gum disease developing. The increase in stress and tiredness can also cause Bruxism to develop, which is the grinding or clenching of teeth during sleep. This can result in headaches, neck and jaw pain, or teeth cracking.
- Menopause: There are many possible changes that can occur in a woman’s mouth during menopause. These include burning mouth syndrome, dry mouth, gingivitis and mucosal changes which can result in changes in the appearance of gums and can cause them to bleed easily.
It is very important to ensure that women maintain their good daily dental hygiene so that the teeth and gums are at their best to deal with these hormonal fluctuations. To reduce this plaque build-up on teeth the following care should be taken:-
- Brush two to three times daily and floss once a day
- Choose health food and not high-sugar foods
- Avoid snacking
- Drink mainly water and milk.
- Avoid adding sugar to drinks
- Chew sugar-free gum after starchy and high sugar foods to help stimulate saliva
- Have regular check-ups at your dentist, to check your teeth and gums to detect any early problems and remove plaque and calculus build-ups to keep your mouth healthy.