Due to fluctuating hormonal changes in your life, you may need to monitor your oral health more closely than a man would. Menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause can all have significant impacts on your teeth and mouth. In turn, researchers are studying the effect of poor oral hygiene on other critical diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. My focus this month is on several oral health complications that could occur during your lifetime and how you can take precautions to avert them.
Menstruation and Oral Health
Menstruation can cause an oral health problem called menstruation gingivitis. Its symptoms include red and swollen gums a few days before your menstrual cycle happens. You may have bleeding gums that stop bleeding as soon as your period begins. Oral contraceptives can aggravate the mouth as the pills can promote inflammation in the gums.
Pregnancy and Oral Health
Maintaining oral health during your pregnancy is essential to your health and your baby’s.
Pregnant women with periodontal disease have a higher risk of having pre-term births. The baby could be born before the 37th week of pregnancy and may have a weight under five pounds.
Periodontal disease is an infection to your gums that damages your soft tissues and can destroy your bone that supports your teeth. Gingivitis, one type of periodontal disease, will cause swelling and bleeding to your gums. Periodontitis occurs when plaque grows under the gum line. Your gums may separate from your teeth and leave open areas that become infected. As the disease progresses, bones will be destroyed leaving you with loose teeth.
Another oral health problem associated with pregnancy is acid erosion due to vomiting during times of morning sickness. Due to the acidity of the vomit, the enamel on the back of your teeth may be damaged.
Menopause and Oral Health
As you move into the years of menopause, several oral health problems can arise. I want to disclose the facts to you about these problems. Menopausal gingivitis, burning mouth sensation and dry mouth can all be uncomfortable for you.
- Burning mouth sensation (BMS) can cause pain and burning of the tongue, lips, and palate. If you have dentures or other dental support, these areas are painful too.
- Dryness of the mouth, another common problem, is due to decreased salivary excretions. Women with dry mouth have an increased rate of root caries (tooth decay), taste issues and periodontal disease.
- Menopausal gingivostomatitis could cause you to have bad breath, dry or bleeding gums, a swollen mouth, infection in the gums and lesions that look like canker sores.
- You know that osteoporosis due to a decrease in estrogen causes you to have fragile bones that can easily break. Osteoporosis can damage the alveolar bone (jaw bone) which anchors your teeth in place. With a damaged alveolar bone, tooth loss is common. Without a strong alveolar bone, your dentures may not fit correctly causing pain.
Oral Health Will Affect Your Overall Health
Various diseases of the body may be linked to poor oral health in women. Bacteria in your mouth can travel to you heart and infect the inner lining, causing endocarditis. Bacterial infections increase the risk of inflammation which might cause cardiovascular disease and stroke. The Harvard Health Letter explains: In people with periodontitis (erosion of tissue and bone that support the teeth), chewing and tooth brushing release bacteria into the bloodstream. Several species of bacteria that cause periodontitis have been found in the atherosclerotic plaque in arteries in the heart and elsewhere. This plaque can lead to heart attacks. (http://www.health.harvard.edu/press_releases/heart-disease-oral-health)
Women with gum disease will have a more challenging time controlling their blood sugar if they are diabetic. The American Diabetes Association reported: People with diabetes are at an increased risk for serious gum disease because they are generally more susceptible to bacterial infection, and have a decreased ability to fight bacteria that invade the gums. (http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/treatment-and-care/oral-health-and-hygiene/diabetes-and-oral-health.htm)
Let’s Improve Your Oral Hygiene
You can take preventative steps in order to keep your mouth and body healthy. Using the steps listed below, you will not only fight cavities and bad breath but your body will be healthier.
- Brush at least 2x a day.
- Floss at least once a day.
- Get check-ups regularly (every 6 months).
- Avoid sugary foods, sodas and energy drinks.
- Eat a balanced diet and stay hydrated.
- Eat foods or take supplements with vitamin D & calcium.
- Choose to have elective treatments only done in the 2nd and 3rd trimesters of pregnancy due to any type of drugs administered for pain or treatment.
- Don’t smoke.
- Have your doctor screen you for osteoporosis.
- Replace your toothbrush every 3 to 4 months. Replace it after being sick so that you are not re-infecting your gums with germs.
- Ask your doctor if you have any risks that would require you to be pre-medicated for certain dental procedures such as prosthetic heart valves, certain murmur or prosthetic joints.
Contact your dentist as soon as an oral health problem arises. Remember, taking care of your oral health is an investment in your overall health.
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; 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.