Maintaining dental health when hormones change
Though women tend to take better care of their teeth than do men, they do not have significantly better oral health than men. In fact, women account for about 75% of office visits for periodontal care. Part of the unique challenge for women is that hormonal changes cause changes in oral health directly affecting gum tissue and bone health, and often causing a host of uncomfortable symptoms.
In my practice, I've had the privilege of helping many women achieve and maintain not only overall dental health but also relief from the oral symptoms that hormonal fluctuations can bring on.
What are the life stage changes in hormone balance that may negatively affect your oral health? And what warning signs can you look for?
During puberty, an increase in progesterone and estrogen causes more blood circulation to the gums, which may swell and bleed even though you brush and floss regularly at home. Gum tissue becomes far more sensitive at this time, more tender, and easier to irritate. This increased irritation tends to go away as puberty progresses; however, your dentist can certainly help if symptoms become bothersome at this time.
Days before menstruation, you may notice red, swollen or bleeding gums, maybe a sore inside your cheek or a canker sore around your mouth. Thanks to a boost in progesterone, which dilates blood vessels and increases inflammation, some women experience gingivitis symptoms just before their periods or at ovulation. The good news is that these symptoms frequently clear up once the period starts, and there are ways of protecting gum tissue and lessening the irritation if symptoms reoccur every month.
Taking Oral Contraceptives
Swollen or bleeding gums commonly occur in women taking oral contraceptives. If your symptoms become uncomfortable enough to seek your dentist's help, be sure to let her or him know specifically what medications you're taking. Some antibiotics that dentists may prescribe for these symptoms actually decrease the effectiveness of oral contraceptives. So communication with your dentist is key.
A higher level of progesterone can cause exaggerated gingivitis from approximately the second month to the eighth month of pregnancy. Though you take excellent care of your teeth, you may still find that your gums bleed when you brush. For some women, gum tissue becomes so sensitive that an irritant (such as plaque) can make it swell into a large, mostly painless bump (called a pregnancy tumor) that usually goes away within a few months after delivery or can be removed by your dentist if it becomes bothersome.
Whether or not you experience gum sensitivity during your pregnancy, make a dental hygiene visit part of your prenatal care, as periodontal disease has been linked to pre-term birth and low birth weight babies.
Menopause & Post-Menopause
During menopause, you may experience changes in the way things taste, be more sensitive to hot and cold foods, and feel as if your tongue and gums are burning. You may take new medications that cause dry mouth as a side effect. Most importantly, declining levels of estrogen can lead to loss of bone (osteoporosis and osteopenia), which includes the bone surrounding your teeth as well. Also, medications taken to prevent bone loss make more frequent cleanings necessary.
Why not treat these symptoms with oral care products from the store? Because some over the counter mouth rinses and toothpastes can actually aggravate these problems “ and should be avoided.
If you are experiencing any of the conditions mentioned here, at any life stage, I personally invite you to call my office and make an appointment. Together, we'll work toward customized solutions that will provide you excellent oral health and comfort for your lifetime.
Robert Korwin DMD, MICOI, MAGD is an award-winning dental expert who has served the Middletown-Red Bank-Monmouth County area for over 35 years. His practice offers a full range of general, reconstructive and cosmetic dental procedures with an emphasis on patient comfort. Advanced Dentistry with a Gentle Touch, includes sedation dentistry, and the practice works with individuals to maximize their dental health, ensure their comfort and minimize financial concerns. For more information, please call (732) 219-8900.