Women, do you know how your hormones affect your oral health? If not, then you are not alone. Not very many women are aware of the relationship between their hormones and oral health. That is why we are going to look deeper into this relationship in honor of National Women’s Health Week (May 9th-15th) hosted by the U.S Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Women’s Health (OWH). Since your hormones affect your oral health and your oral health affects your overall health, we think it is important to address women’s health at its roots.
Everything that occurs in your body, as well as your health, is directly affected by hormones. This is because hormones are chemical messengers produced by the body in order to initiate certain actions or functions. Different hormones are responsible for different functions, and different amounts of hormones have their own effect on various bodily functions. A good example of this is when you consider the fact that men and women have the same hormones, albeit different amounts that carry out different functions.
Since women produce higher levels of estrogen and progesterone, they are at an increased risk for certain oral health conditions. This is because estrogen and progesterone increase blood flow to the gums, making them more sensitive to plaque and bacteria. This increased sensitivity causes the gums to “overreact” which leads to swollen, tender gums that bleed easily. Here is a brief look at how hormonal changes during a woman’s lifetime can affect her oral health:
During puberty, estrogen begins to be produced by the hypothalamus. In response to this new hormone, the gums may become red, swollen, and tender. They may also bleed easily and canker sores May develop on the inside of the mouth. In fact, canker sores are extremely common in teenagers, but are two times more likely to affect women over men. During puberty, it is important to maintain good oral hygiene in order to decrease the amount of plaque and reduce gum tenderness.
During Your Period
In the days leading up to your period, you may experience tender gums that bleed easily. Some women also experience the development of canker sores in their mouth just before beginning their period. The tender gums in the development of canker sores are caused by increased estrogen levels that peak just before you start your period. These symptoms generally continue throughout your period and end once your period ends. To prevent unnecessary discomfort during this time, it is recommended to wait at least one week after your period before scheduling any type of dental cleaning or procedure.
While on Birth Control
Your oral health can also be affected while taking birth control. One of the biggest oral health risks associated with birth control is that you may develop a dry socket after having a tooth extraction. However the estrogen and progesterone levels in modern birth control are too low to have an effect on your gums. Still, it is important to communicate with your dentist if you are taking birth control, since they can interfere with antibiotics.
During pregnancy a woman’s body changes in many ways. Among these changes are high levels of estrogen produced to sustain the pregnancy. During a single pregnancy, a woman produces more estrogen than she will in her entire non-pregnant life. This high amount of estrogen can cause something known as pregnancy gingivitis, which is characterized by sore tender gums that bleed easily. It is important to treat pregnancy gingivitis by practicing proper oral hygiene and visiting your dentist regularly for cleaning. Untreated gum disease can be detrimental to the health of you and your unborn child. It has been associated with pre-eclampsia, low birth weight, and premature birth.
A woman’s body also undergoes changes associated with menopause. During menopause estrogen levels drop. This drop in estrogen can cause a variety of changes to occur in the mouth including altered taste and a burning sensation. However, a drop in estrogen can also result in dry mouth and bone loss. Dry mouth poses a threat to your oral health because saliva is essential to keep your teeth clean and reduce bacteria levels. People with dry mouth are more likely to develop tooth decay and gum disease, therefore you will need to be extra diligent about your oral hygiene. Bone loss can also occur as a result of estrogen drop, however it can be worsened by severe gum disease.
Dr. Alina Huang has been practicing dentistry in Manhattan for the last eight years. She was born in New York City, and raised in California where she received her Bachelor’s degree at UCLA, and her D.D.S. at the University of the Pacific in San Francisco. She then made her return to NYC where she completed her General Practice Residency at Montefiore Medical Center and has been working in private practice ever since. She continues her learning by attending courses to stay current with the latest advancements in dentistry and refine her skills.