Did you know the month of May is both Women’s Health Month and Pregnancy Awareness Month? Men and women may experience many of the same oral health issues, but female hormones, which change over the course of a woman’s lifetime and especially during pregnancy, can impact how those oral health issues develop.
Knowing how hormone changes can affect women’s oral health can help you or a woman in your life get the proper preventive care to avoid more serious health conditions later on. This month, take time to learn more about the steps women can take to stay healthy.
Hormones and Women’s Oral Health
Female hormones boost blood flow to gum tissue, increasing gums’ sensitivity to plaque and bacteria, which can cause gums to swell or bleed.1 While hormonal changes may not cause gum disease, they can worsen oral health issues leading to inflammation, cold sores, dry mouth, and changes in taste. These changes often coincide with one’s menstrual cycle, as the body produces more of the hormone estrogen at certain points in a woman’s cycle.
Oral contraceptives can cause further changes to oral health. For example, if a woman is having a tooth removed while taking oral contraceptives, she may be at a higher risk for dry socket, a painful dental condition that might occur after tooth extraction. If there are any concerns about using oral contraceptives and changes to oral health, a woman can consult her physician and her dentist.
How Oral Health Can Affect an Expectant Mother and Her Baby
While hormone levels change at various times in a woman’s life, the changes that come with pregnancy are likely the most dramatic. At the same time, oral health problems during pregnancy are especially concerning as the baby may be impacted as well as the mother.
For expectant mothers, changes in hormone levels can potentially lead to gingivitis and flare-ups of pre-existing periodontal (gum) disease. Gingivitis and gum disease are also associated with premature birth and low birth weight.2
Gum disease is also associated with other health problems, including cardiovascular disease. Symptoms associated with cardiovascular disease, like high blood pressure, can in turn lead to serious conditions like preeclampsia, impacting the health of both mother and baby.3,4
Prevention is key. While all of these conditions are treatable, they can be avoided altogether with proper care. Pregnancy can take a toll on a woman’s oral health, which is why it’s crucial to see a dentist for preventive care and cleanings as soon as possible. Dental cleaning and procedures for pregnant women are typically safe. The key is to promptly communicate with their dentist about the pregnancy, including how far along they are and if it is high risk.
Dental procedures such as preventive, diagnostic, and restorative treatment are safe throughout pregnancy.5 Emergency procedures like root canals may also be necessary during pregnancy as well. Someone who is expecting a baby should never postpone emergency treatment. Pregnant patients can undergo radiographic exams safely when proper precautions are taken. The use of abdominal and thyroid shielding is crucial at any stage of pregnancy to ensure the well-being of the baby and mother.
Oral Health Concerns Later in Life
During menopause, a woman may experience oral health changes such as dry mouth or potential bone loss, both of which can lead to tooth decay.6
Dry mouth occurs when one experiences a decreased flow of saliva, which is common after menopause. Saliva is the mouth’s main defense against tooth decay, and without it, teeth are more susceptible to cavities.
There are plenty of ways to manage dry mouth, such as drinking more water, eating fewer salty or spicy foods, and avoiding caffeine and tobacco. Dentists can also prescribe fluoridated toothpaste, which can help protect against tooth decay.
Due to the drop in estrogen levels that women experience after menopause, bone loss and the diagnosis of osteoporosis are more common.7 Bone loss in the jaw can lead to tooth loss, and may trigger gum disease. The dentist can identify these signs in the mouth, which is why it’s important to visit the dentist regularly.
If you or a loved one is due for a dental cleaning and exam, schedule a visit with an in-network dentist near you using our Find a Provider tool, and take action for your and your family’s oral health. If you aren’t yet enrolled in dental insurance, protect yourself and your family with one of our affordable family plan options.