Women face unique challenges when it comes to dental health. Hormonal changes are normal, but fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone levels leave women more vulnerable to periodontal (gum) disease.
Gingivitis is a mild form of gum disease causing red, tender, and bleeding gums. Periodontitis is more serious and causes inflammation of the tissues surrounding the teeth, which can lead to bone loss and, if left untreated, tooth loss.
There are five stages when women are susceptible to changes that can impact their dental health.
- Puberty. The surge of estrogen and progesterone in adolescent and teenage girls can increase blood flow to the gums. This may cause the gums to become inflamed in reaction to bacterial plaque, which causes soreness and bleeding. Canker sores may be common at this stage, but usually heal on their own.
- Menstruation. Once the menstruation cycle begins, women may notice swollen, bleeding gums, canker sores, or swollen salivary glands. Some women notice these symptoms increase before a period and subside after it stops. If you have increased sensitivity before or during your period, the American Dental Association recommends scheduling cleanings about a week after it ends.
- Using oral contraceptives. While some birth control pills may cause gum inflammation initially, newer pills contain lower hormone levels that make them unlikely to cause long-term dental issues. Tell your dentist if you are taking oral contraceptives, because certain medications (like antibiotics) can lower the effectiveness of the pill. It’s important your dentist has an up-to-date list of all your medications.
- Pregnancy. Rapidly changing hormones during pregnancy (particularly increased progesterone) can cause pregnancy gingivitis. Women are most prone to this between the second and eighth months of gestation. It’s important and safe to continue dental visits during pregnancy, which can also protect the baby’s health by reducing the risk of passing on cavity-causing bacteria.
- Menopause. Hormonal changes during and after menopause can contribute to dental changes. Decreasing estrogen and progesterone levels, along with certain medications taken by older women, increase risk of dry mouth, a condition caused when your body doesn’t have enough saliva to neutralize plaque-producing acids. “Burning mouth”, a sensation that can develop in your lips, gums, cheeks, throat, and palate, may also result from hormonal changes, as does the risk of developing bone loss.
Prevention and Treatment Are Key
Gum disease isn’t a foregone conclusion. In spite of hormone changes women experience throughout their lives, developing and maintaining healthy habits is vital. It’s possible to prevent, and in early stages reverse, periodontal disease.
- Remember to brush and floss. Thoroughly remove bacteria from your mouth. Brushing your teeth with fluoride toothpaste twice a day using a soft-bristled or quality electric toothbrush is important. Don’t forget to floss at least once daily.
- Fuel your body. A well-balanced diet has dental benefits, too. Foods rich in calcium and vitamin D, like spinach, salmon, and milk, help maintain bone strength. Salty, sugary, and hard-to-chew foods can increase dry mouth—limiting these can help maintain salivary flow.
- Avoid certain habits. Alcohol, vaping, cannabis, and tobacco can increase the risk of bone loss and periodontitis. Work with your dentist and other health care professionals to help avoid or limit their use.
- Seek regular exercise. Exercise has a positive effect on dental health. Activities like walking, running, stretching, and lifting weights increase bone density and support cardiovascular health.
- Visit your dentist. Solutions are only a visit away and the team at Lewis Estates Dental Centre is here to help. Include regular checkups and cleanings as part of your health care routine. Your dentist has tools, such as radiographs (X-rays), to detect potential issues before they become problematic.
Talk to your dentist if you notice any changes to your teeth, gums, or mouth. Good dental care is part of your overall health and wellbeing—it’s important to understand the relationship between gum disease and the impact of women’s hormonal fluctuations. Addressing potential issues in their early stages will help you care for your body and keep your smile healthy through all phases of your life.