Many women believe that their smile is their best asset. I love to laugh and smile with my family and friends, but I realize that having a white smile is not enough! Our ability to eat nutritious foods and obtain vital nutrients depends upon having healthy teeth. Without intervention, dental disease can have unexpected and expensive consequences for women. Lisa Bell, the State Public Health Dental Hygienist, described why women have specific oral health issues. “Our menstrual cycle, pregnancy and menopause can all cause unique oral health problems for women. Poor lifestyle habits like drinking alcohol and smoking increase the likelihood of decay that cause tooth loss. We have seen more women coming to the Madison Dental Initiative with dental complications than men for these reasons.”
I want you to be conscientious about your oral health. Let’s take a look at some of these issues that can occur at various stages of your life.
Oral Health and Pregnancy
Due to changes in your body during pregnancy, the amount of estrogen and progesterone increases in your body. These levels of hormones affect your oral tissues, especially if you have plaque. Excessive plaque causes “pregnancy gingivitis” which needs to be treated by a dentist. Gingivitis symptoms typically include swollen, tender and bleeding gums. If you leave gingivitis untreated your chances of getting periodontal disease escalates.
Wisconsin Women’s Health Foundation’s GrapeVine Project, presented by Faith Community/Parish Nurses, shares health information throughout the state with women during free group sessions. Nora Miller, Program Manager, provided this information. The physical effects of pregnancy can impact positive oral health behaviors. Nausea and vomiting sometimes causes women to avoid tooth brushing, and, as a result, the risk of tooth erosion and dental caries may increase. In addition, food cravings may lead to frequent consumption of sugary snacks and increase the risk of cavities.
While you are pregnant, commit to taking special care of your teeth. Clean along your gum line with toothpaste after each meal, and floss! Your dentist can help control the plaque. Regular contact with your dentist during your pregnancy is a must! Don’t forget to eat nutritious foods while pregnant such as cheese, yogurt and milk. This will help your baby have strong teeth and bones.
Menopause and Your Oral Health
We need to be even more dedicated to maintaining our oral health as we age. Menopause can be the source of several unfavorable dental problems. With our estrogen levels on the decline, our jaw bone density can decrease. Once we have problems with the jaw bone density, tooth loss is common. Tooth loss leads to complications with chewing and nutritional deficiencies, therefore our health is compromised.
Another menopausal condition we can suffer from is dry mouth. Without saliva to neutralize acids and help fight plaque, gum infections may be common. Dry mouth can also be due to medications that you are prescribed for other health conditions.
Diseases Linked to Poor Oral Hygiene
Ignoring your dental health does not just cause a yellow smile. Researchers are completing studies to determine if there is a correlation between oral bacteria and heart disease. If you have infected pockets in your gums, the pockets allow bacteria to reach your blood stream. Bacteria release toxins and these toxins could damage your blood vessels. Your body’s response to toxins is for your immune system to kick into attack mode which causes inflammation. It may be possible for this inflammation to cause a heart attack or stroke.
Bleeding gums and tooth loss have been linked to other diseases such as high cholesterol, diabetes and high blood pressure. Nora Miller provided the following information from the American Dental Hygienists’ Association. Research studies have found a link between periodontal (gum) disease and diabetes. Symptoms of the disease often appear in the mouth, while almost one-third of people with diabetes have severe periodontal disease. This is believed to be a result of the diabetic patient’s greater susceptibility to developing infections. Conversely, severe periodontal disease may increase the risk of developing diabetes, and may make it more difficult to manage blood sugar levels.
Oral Health Issues Due to Smoking and Alcohol
The numerous chemicals in cigarettes affect your mouth tissue. Problems linked to smoking include tooth discoloration, oral cancer, bad breath, and the possibility of implants failing. If you smoke and ignore your dental hygiene, plaque builds up on your teeth. This is a perfect place for tar to attach to your teeth and gums. The cancer causing agents adhere themselves to these areas leaving your tongue, mouth, gums, pharynx and esophagus possible targets of oral cancer.
Drinking alcohol has a direct impact on your gums and increases periodontal disease. Drinking alcoholic beverages frequently increases the chances of oral cancer, especially on the gums, roof of the mouth or on the tongue. If you do smoke or drink alcohol, you should schedule dental check-ups every six months so that your dentist can identify changes in your mouth or jaw.
Take Time For Your Teeth!
My advice to you is to brush your teeth twice a day, floss and schedule your dental appointments. This small fraction of time out of your day is essential to your physical wellness.
Because it all begins with a healthy woman…
Sue Ann Thompson is founder and president of the Wisconsin Women’s Health Foundation (WWHF), a statewide non-profit organization whose mission is to help Wisconsin women and their families reach their healthiest potential. WWHF provides programs and conducts forums that focus on education, prevention, and early detection of diseases that affect women the most; connects individuals to health resources; produces and distributes the most up-to-date health education and resource materials; and, awards grants and scholarships to women health researchers and related community non-profits. To learn more, visit wwhf.org or call 1-800-448-5148.