Men and women are created equal, but not the same. Unique experiences give rise to unique needs and preferences for women in many aspects of life. Dental health is not exempt.
The important differences in women’s oral health largely depend on hormone fluctuations. As such, dental conditions depend on life stages, as dictated by surges in sex hormone levels: puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, lactation and menopause. Women are also more likely to be diagnosed with TMJ, myofascial pain, eating disorders and Sjorgen’s Syndrome (dry mouth).
Regardless of gender, we all need 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 thoroughly each day. To help avoid problems, your dentist may request to see you more frequently during hormonal surges. Here’s a short guide to dental health for women across life stages:
• The surge in hormones that occurs during puberty may cause swollen gums, especially during menstruation. Herpes-type lesions and ulcers also can develop.
• Girls may experience sensitive gums that react to mere irritants.
• Oral contraceptives contain progesterone or estrogen. Therefore, gingivitis may occur with long-term use. Use of certain antibiotics while taking oral contraceptives can decrease its effectiveness. Women who use birth control are twice as likely to develop dry sockets and should consult their 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. Those with periodontal disease may be at risk for pre-term, low-birth weight babies. They are also at risk for developing pregnancy tumors—inflammatory, benign growths that develop when swollen gums become irritated, but shrink soon after the pregnancy is over. If a woman experiences morning sickness it is important to neutralize the acid caused by vomiting which causes tooth erosion.
• During menopause, some women can experience dry mouth, burning sensation, and changes in taste. Gums can even become sore and sensitive.
• Hormonal replacement therapy may cause gums to bleed, swell and become red.
• Diet pills and certain medications (over-the-counter and prescriptions) can decrease salivary flow, which puts patients at risk for cavities, gum disease and discomfort.
• Smoking also creates a higher risk for periodontal disease, no matter what age or gender.
Keep your dentist informed if you experience changes in your oral health or if you are approaching a different life stage. Also, visiting your dentist regularly will help him or her see any physical changes in your mouth, and assess your risk for any other dental problems.