How the Mouth Affects Women's Health

Who would guess the number one killer of women in the U.S.A. is heart disease, which has a connection with the mouth? Health of the mouth does affect women's health, and this is certainly true as we learn more about how the mouth affects overall health. It's true, your mouth has a lot to say about your general health, including increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke, and other health issues. If you have bad breath or occasional bleeding when you brush or floss, better head for your dentist. These are all signs of gum disease, which studies report may increase your risk of cardiovascular disease, heart disease, stroke, and problem pregnancies.

Women experience hormonal changes throughout life. The stages of life when hormones tend to vary the most include puberty, monthly menstrual cycle, using birth control pills or devices, during pregnancy and menopause.

Puberty and Oral Health

The importance of taking care of the mouth during childhood and adolescents cannot be emphasized enough. Puberty involves reproductive changes with increase production levels of estrogen and progesterone. These levels will most likely stay the same during a women's life. However, the initial rise in these hormones during puberty triggers small blood vessels in the gums to dilate. This may cause sensitive gums, sore mouth, bleeding and swollen gums.

With poor oral hygiene, these problems become worse. Plaque contains bacteria which can irritate the gums, leading to gum disease. If plaque is not removed daily, destructive and harmful bacteria will increase over the normal "health" bacteria, causing irritation and inflammation resulting in gum disease (periodontal disease). As gum disease advances from the initial stage of gingivitis, it can increase the risk of the teen to periodontal disease and even tooth loss. This is why regular dental appointments and daily proper oral hygiene is extremely important. Teen should visit the dentist every six months, unless the dentist recommends only annual visits due to a healthy mouth.

The Menstrual Cycle and Gum Health

When hormones fluctuate during your period, changes also happen to your gums. "Menstrual gingivitis" refers to inflamed gums which is characterized by red, swollen and tender gums that easily bleed. Canker sores and other mouth sores may also appear during a woman's monthly period. These signs tend to appear more often at the beginning of the cycle and resolve after the period starts. They can of course, become worse, if proper oral hygiene is not practiced daily.

Pregnancy and Oral Health

Pregnancy can not only have an affect on your oral health but also your unborn baby's developing teeth. Preventing cavities and gum disease can affect the mother's health before and during pregnancy. Studies reported in CDA Foundation that poor oral health can lead to:
  • Preterm Birth
  • Preeclampsia
  • Gestational Diabetes
  • First Trimester Miscarriage

In addition to these problems and risks, there is the potential of transmission of bacteria in the pregnant woman's mouth to their children. Even prior to getting pregnant, it's important to visit the dentist for a check up. Any cavities or other dental problems should be addressed to prevent oral disease complications, such as tooth extraction or root canal and abscess, during pregnancy.

If you experience morning sickness, it's important to go to sleep with a clean mouth while using dental products that bring about a neutral oral environment. Bacteria thrive in an acid mouth causing tooth decay and gum disease. During the day, carry an alcohol-free breath spray to freshen your breath.

Follow your dentist's advise on how often to make check up appointments during pregnancy. Every three months may be recommended for routine cleanings and a clinical exam, without need for X-rays. During pregnancy, X-rays should only be prescribed if there is a dental emergency. Advanced digital X-rays are much safer and expose you to approximately 50% - 75% less radiation, depending on the machine used. All non-necessary dental treatment should be delayed until after delivery. The first trimester is the most critical time in the baby's development. Unless there is a dental emergency, no treatment should be given during this period. Make sure to let your dentist know what medications and supplements your physician has prescribed.

Menopause And Oral Health

It's not unusual for a woman to experience dry mouth, burning mouth and changes in taste. The gums may also become more sensitive. With aging, medications may need to be taken. Some medications may cause altered taste, burning sensations in the mouth, and decreased salivary flow. Dry mouth can make the mouth more susceptible to gum disease and tooth decay. With age, it's also common to notice the gums receding. This may lead to loose teeth or sensitivity. There is controversy about hormone (estrogens/progesterone) replacement therapy on oral symptoms and signs during menopause and post-menopause. There is be benefit initially, but if the therapy is stopped, mouth discomfort may appear due to the withdrawal of the hormones.

Proper oral hygiene and regular dental professional visits can minimize the signs and side effects of oral problems during menopause and post-menopause in women.

Side Effects of Birth Control

Birth control pills and other contraceptive devices are not free of side effects. Typically, contraceptives are prescribed to prevent pregnancies. They may also be recommended to help relief symptoms of pain and emotional ups and downs of menstruation. Some brands may be advised to treat acne. Heavy or irregular periods with women may also require oral contraceptives to manage.

With dental treatment, if your dentist prescribes antibiotics, your birth control affects will be decreased. Other related oral affects and side effects include gingivitis. Gingivitis is the initial stage of gum disease, and is characterized by swelling, redness and bleeding of the gums.


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