In light of Mother’s Day, there is no better time than now to highlight all of the amazing women out there. Let’s take a moment to shout out to all the women in the world - grandmothers, mothers, aunts, sisters, nieces, and daughters. Regardless of your title, you are special.
This article is intended to feature women and their oral health. A woman’s guide to good oral health is important to discuss. Women are likely to encounter various changes in their mouths throughout their lifetime. To help minimize poor oral health outcomes for women, it is important to provide them with relatable and applicable dental education.
Women have unique dental needs depending on the stage of life they are in. Increasing or decreasing hormones (estrogen and progesterone) may very likely influence a woman’s dental health, especially during puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, and post-menopause.
Puberty and the onset of a menstrual cycle may affect your oral health.
As a female enters puberty, there is a significant influx of the two sex hormones, estrogen, and progesterone. Research has shown oral changes associated with both puberty and menses. Bacteria associated with gum disease have also been studied during these life stages. According to previous literature, some women experience higher levels of gingivitis-associated oral bacteria in the days leading up to menstruation. As a result, a woman’s gums may become red, swollen, and tender.
Pregnancy has the potential to affect a woman’s oral health.
A woman’s body undergoes many changes during pregnancy. Sixty to 75% of pregnant women experience some version of gingivitis, or gum disease, during their pregnancy. This can present as early as the second month of pregnancy when there are such high estrogen and progesterone levels.
Periodontal disease is an advanced version of gingivitis; it is also irreversible. Research suggests a correlation between preterm and low-birth-weight babies and mothers with periodontal disease. Oral health is often less of a priority during pregnancy- especially if a woman is experiencing nausea, vomiting, reflux, and many salivary changes and food aversions/cravings. So, here are a few steps you can implement during pregnancy to help prevent pregnancy-associated gingivitis:
- Brush your teeth twice a day for 2 minutes, using mild toothpaste.
- Brush gently towards your gums to remove plaque that is associated with gingivitis.
- Eat foods high in Vitamin C and B12 to help support good gum health (berries, leafy greens, milk, cheese, eggs, etc.).
- Visit your dentist at least every 6 months for preventive care. This is safe during pregnancy!
- Drink lots of water!
Pregnant women are encouraged to seek dental care throughout their pregnancy. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children born to mothers with untreated decay are 3 times more likely to also experience dental cavities.
Check out my “Pregnancy and Oral Care” blog for more information on this specific topic around women’s oral health.
According to the American Dental Association, previous research has suggested a correlation between oral contraceptives, bleeding gums, and possible gingival enlargement.
Fortunately, these studies were conducted when oral contraceptives were prescribed at higher levels. More recent studies on oral contraceptives and gingival effects have shown more minor associations.
The post-menopausal stage of a woman’s life may bring about oral discomfort.
Menopausal and post-menopausal women may experience a version of oral discomfort from mild symptoms (e.g., altered taste buds) to more significant discomforts (e.g., burning mouth). Dry mouth is another common symptom revealed during this stage. This stage also changes a woman’s bone density, which is associated with estrogen decrease. If a woman’s bone density in the jaw becomes affected during menopause, gum recession may present concurrently. Receding gums means there is an exposure of the root of the tooth. Roots are not as protected from decay as the crown of the tooth. Good brushing, a diet low in sugar, and possibly more frequent dental checkups are essential for post-menopausal women’s oral health.
Regardless of the stage of life, you can help prevent oral health problems by practicing good oral health habits. Here are some examples of where you can start:
- Brush twice a day and floss nightly
- Eat foods low in sugars and high in vitamins, and drink lots of water
- Visit your dentist at least twice a year
- Pay close attention to any new changes that are present in your mouth.
So as we celebrate all women this month, remember how valuable you are and the importance of your oral hygiene routine!
About the author: Kristen Cockrell, MS, RDH
Kristen Cockrell is a mother to two boys and a Registered Dental Hygienist with a passion for preventive pediatric dentistry and oral health education. Kristen recently completed a master’s degree in dental hygiene education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Photo credit to our beautiful Grin mama @jasmine.pring