International Women’s Day - held annually on March 8th - is a time when people around the world come together to celebrate women’s achievement while raising awareness of gender equality.
As part of this female focus, we’re taking a look at the topic of women’s oral health. It might surprise you to learn that women have unique needs when it comes to dental care, with the impact of hormones and bodily changes resulting in different effects on teeth and gums.
In this article, we’ll explore how events such as pregnancy and menopause affect oral health in women, and how to keep your teeth and gums in the best condition at every stage of life.
Changes in Oral Health During a Woman’s Life
One of the main reasons that women’s oral health differs from that of men is due to the changes in hormones that occur at different stages in a female’s cycle and lifetime.
As Dr Jelena Skovlj from National Dental Care, Barangaroo (NSW) points out, “hormone levels rise and fall throughout a woman's menstrual cycle, during pregnancy and menopause. Increases in hormones, in particular progesterone, can affect a woman’s mouth and gums, increasing gum sensitivity and irritation, as well as tenderness. Brushing and flossing twice a day becomes even more important during these times to avoid any unnecessary discomfort”.
Women’s oral health and the menstrual cycle
The hormonal changes associated with a woman’s period can have a significant impact on their oral health. Dr Skovlj explains that during menstruation “gums may become more sensitive to plaque and bacteria, which can lead to gingivitis. Women may notice more gingival bleeding at the time of their periods and may even find dental cleans more tender than usual”. Aside from gum irritation, some women also experience cold sores and mouth ulcers in the lead up to their period.
It’s important to maintain your oral hygiene practices during these times by making sure you brush twice a day and floss at least once a day. If you experience extra sensitivity in the gums at certain stages of your menstrual cycle, you may want to book your check-up and clean outside of these times to avoid discomfort.
The impact of pregnancy on oral health
Pregnancy can have a big impact on a woman’s oral health. As pregnancy hormones affect the way the gums respond to plaque, there’s an increased risk of developing gingivitis. This can lead to periodontitis, which can result in the loss of tissue and bone that hold teeth in place.
To reduce your risk of developing oral health issues during pregnancy, it’s very important to maintain your usual oral hygiene routine. If you suffer from morning sickness, it’s advisable not to brush your teeth immediately after vomiting, as this can weaken the enamel - instead, rinse your mouth with water.
It’s also important to keep up to date with your regular dental checks, so your dentist can monitor your oral health and address any issues as they arise.
How menopause affects oral health in women
We all know that menopause affects a woman’s body in a number of ways - but did you know that these changes can extend to oral health?
Dr Ash Malhotra from DB Dental, South Lake (WA) explains that “the tissues in our mouth rely heavily on the same hormones that our reproductive system relies on to work normally and stay healthy. So, as hormone levels become more erratic, these tissues begin to struggle to do their job well, placing pressure on the teeth, gums and entire oral system”.
Menopause can also increase the risk of periodontal disease, causing symptoms including inflamed, bleeding and swollen gums, receding gums, gaps between teeth, tooth loss, bad breath, and pain when chewing. In addition, menopause can also cause a dry mouth, which may increase the risk of gum disease and cavities. “When your salivary glands fail to produce enough saliva to wash away oral bacteria, germs can accumulate inside your mouth, raising your risk for gingivitis and tooth decay”, says Dr Malhotra.
The best advice for managing oral health conditions during menopause is to visit your dentist regularly. You can discuss any concerns and your dentist can advise on the best treatment options to help you address your dental health issues.
If you have questions about how to optimise your oral health at every life stage, chat to your local National Dental Care Group / DB Dental practice. You can Book an Appointment online today.