Starting each year on Mother’s Day, and led by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health, National Women’s Health Week focuses on encouraging women and girls to take control of their health and make wellness a priority.
There is also a special emphasis on educating women about steps they can take to help maintain their health throughout their lives, including:
- Being active
- Maintaining a healthy diet
- Prioritizing mental health
- Working healthy behaviors into their lives (such as getting enough sleep)
- Getting regular check-ups from their healthcare providers
Women have unique oral health concerns
Hormonal level changes during menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause can impact your mouth, teeth, and/or gums. Typically, this begins with gums that easily get swollen and irritated. Your gums may also bleed, especially during pregnancy.
Consistent at-home dental hygiene and regular visits to your dentist can help prevent disease in your mouth and the rest of your body since oral health is increasingly tied to a number of other health conditions.
Dental health and menstruation
During ovulation and a few days before you start your period, higher levels of progesterone may cause gum inflammation and tenderness. Your gums may be redder than normal and more prone to bleeding when you brush or floss. You may also be more prone to experiencing canker sores (small ulcers inside your mouth, as opposed to cold sores that appear on the mouth and lips) more often during your menstrual period.
During this time, you may want to be especially gentle when you brush your teeth, consider using a softer toothbrush, and floss carefully. But don’t be tempted to skip or skimp on your dental care routine when you have your period unless your dentist advises you to do so.
Hormonal birth control can also cause similar issues. Make sure that your dentist knows about all the medicines you take, including birth control, as this may impact your treatment plan. Depending on the type of birth control you use, hormone levels can affect how quickly your mouth heals after getting teeth extracted or having other dental treatments. And if your dentist prescribes antibiotics, they may also interfere with the effectiveness of birth control.
Oral health and pregnancy
If you’ve been pregnant you probably know that brushing your teeth can be difficult, especially in the first few months! Brushing, especially early in the morning, can trigger your gag reflex, and you may find that flavored toothpastes make you nauseous. This can be really problematic, as changing hormone levels during pregnancy can make gum disease worse or lead to severe gum disease in as many as 2 in 5 pregnant women. Periodontitis is an infection of the tissues that hold your teeth in place. It's usually caused by not brushing and flossing, or brushing and flossing in a way that allows plaque — a sticky film of bacteria — to build up on the teeth and harden. Periodontitis can cause sore, bleeding gums, painful chewing, and tooth loss. And severe gum disease can cause pregnancy complications too.
So, it’s really important to maintain excellent dental hygiene when you are pregnant. It may be easier to brush with a small toothbrush, the type that’s marketed for toddlers. You can try brushing at different times of the day. It may also help to switch your toothpaste to a different flavor – or no flavor at all – or simply skip the toothpaste entirely for a while if your dentist says that’s okay.
And if you have morning sickness that causes vomiting, or heartburn that causes acid reflux, your tooth enamel (the hard, protective coating on the outside of your teeth) can be affected. To prevent erosion, the American Dental Association recommends rinsing your mouth with plain water, a diluted mouth rinse or a mixture of 1 cup of water and 1 tsp. of baking soda.
Schedule a dental exam early in your pregnancy (you may not feel comfortable sitting in a dental chair during your last trimester!) and make sure to tell your dentist that you’re pregnant when you book your exam.
Menopause and dental health
Reduced levels of estrogen during and after menopause can affect your oral health. You may experience discomfort or pain in your mouth, as well as bone loss. All of these can result in tooth decay, tooth loss or gum disease.
Salvia is the mouth’s major defense against tooth decay, and dry mouth can cause accelerated tooth decay, gum disease, oral sores and pain, and bad breath. The condition can be caused by low estrogen levels as well as many medications. People have reported relief by staying well-hydrated, using artificial saliva or other dry mouth treatments. Ask your dentist for suggestions on how to manage dry mouth.
Burning Mouth Syndrome has been associated with menopause and can linger post-menopause. It’s a frequent – sometimes constant – scalding sensation on gums, tongue, lips, roof of the mouth, inside cheeks, and the back of their mouth and throat. People may also have dry mouths or lips, stinging or numbness in their mouth or the tip of their tongues, plus a bitter taste at the back of their throat. Symptoms tend to peak in the evening. The pain may be accompanied by frequent headaches or migraines.
Lowered levels of estrogen after menopause raises every woman's risk of osteoporosis. When your bones are weakened from osteoporosis, gum disease can happen more quickly, and you may experience weakened teeth or even tooth loss. Receding gums may be the first sign of bone loss in your jaw. To help reduce your risk of dental decay during and after menopause, ask your dentist about nutrients such as calcium and vitamin D.
Oral Health For Life
Regular dental checkups and professional cleanings, along with a good at-home oral hygiene routine, help you maintain your oral and overall health throughout your life.
If the cost of dental care has caused you to skip checkups, you may want to consider joining a dental savings plan, an affordable alternative to dental insurance that offers plan members 10-60% off on virtually all dental procedures. Reach out to us at 1-833-735-0399 if you have any questions about dental savings plans.