In this issue, we’ve asked Dr. Carol Lee, Attending Staff in General Dentistry at the Northwestern Dental Clinic and Clinical Instructor of Otolaryngology (Dental Surgery) within the Feinberg School of Medicine to share with us some valuable advice about women’s oral health.
We know that sex and gender can influence health in important ways. Does the same hold true for oral health
There are many non-gender based variables that could influence oral health in both men and women, such as attitude towards dentistry, access to dental care, socioeconomic and environmental influences, social history, heredity, systemic health and medications. However, women do have specific oral health concerns at different stages of their life. The changes in female hormone levels during puberty, menstruation, pregnancy and menopause influence the oral flora, which has a direct effect on oral health.
Are there certain oral health issues which are more common in women compared to men?
Some research has shown that women seek regular dental care more than men and that women practice better home hygiene habits. However, but, the biggest difference between women and men with regards to oral health is the hormonal changes that a woman experiences during different stages of her lifetime.
Are there specific circumstances where women should pay closer attention to their oral health, such as during pregnancy or menopause?
Puberty, menstruation, pregnancy and menopause all affect oral health. Hormonal fluctuations have a strong influence on the mouth and therefore women have special needs at different stages of life.
Puberty: During puberty, there is an increase in hormones such as progesterone and estrogen, which can cause increased blood circulation to the gums. This can cause increased gum sensitivity, bleeding and tenderness.
Menstruation: While menstruating, some females experience bleeding gums and mouth sores.
Pregnancy: When hormone levels rise/fall, oral health issues can be at risk. The most common occurrence during pregnancy is something called pregnancy gingivitis, which
is inflammation of the gums.
Menopause/post-menopause: The most common changes in the mouth during this stage of life could include burning gums, altered taste and dry mouth.
What are your recommendations for maintaining healthy teeth and gums?
To maintain oral health it’s important to:
- Brush twice a day (morning and before bed) with a soft bristled brush or an electric toothbrush
- Floss at least once a day
- Use a fluoride based toothpaste
- Eat a balanced diet, avoiding sticky candy and high sugar foods. If consumed brush/rinse afterwards if possible.
- If one chews gum, it should be sugar free
- Have a regular dental recall (exam, x-rays and dental cleaning). The dental team (dentist/hygienist) can detect early gum disease, which left untreated could lead to periodontal disease and potential tooth loss.