FAQs: Women and Oral Health

Women and periodontal healthStatistics show that women are more likely to visit a dentist then men—but does this mean women have better oral health? Not necessarily. Women have specific oral health needs, and hormonal fluctuations throughout their lifetime can make them more susceptible to periodontal disease. Here are a few frequently asked questions concerning women’s oral health at various stages of life.

My teenage daughter complains of swollen, tender gums. Should I be concerned?
High hormone levels in puberty-aged women increase the blood circulation to the gums. The result? Sensitivity, irritation, and a greater chance of infection. Although the swelling response will lessen as puberty progresses, it’s important to practice thorough at-home dental hygiene, including regular brushing, flossing, and dental visits. Your daughter may require more frequent professional cleanings, and the dentist may recommend periodontal therapy to prevent permanent damage to the bone and surrounding tissues.

I’ve noticed that my breath isn’t as fresh right before my menstrual cycle. Is this normal?
Prior to menstruation, hormone fluctuations cause an increase in salivary proteins. This can lead to bad breath just prior to your monthly cycle. You can combat bad breath with diligent brushing, careful flossing, tongue scraping prior to meals, and rinsing with an alcohol-free mouth rinse every five hours. If bad breath persists, see your dentist, as it may be a sign of a more serious problem, such as periodontal disease.

What is menstrual gingivitis?
Studies show that women become more susceptible to gingivitis (mild gum disease) just prior to menstruation. Some women experience gingivitis, characterized by bleeding, swollen gums, or sores inside the mouth just before starting their periods. Typically, the gingivitis clears once the cycle begins.

Do pregnant women need more dental attention?
Yes. Many women are more susceptible to gingivitis in the first few months of pregnancy. Any infection, including a periodontal infection, poses a risk to the developing fetus. In fact, women with periodontal disease are seven times more likely to have pre-term or low birth-weight babies. Pregnant women should include regular dental visits and vigilant at-home hygiene as part of their routine prenatal care.

Does menopause affect my oral health?
Nearly 50% of women age 55 to 90 have gum disease. Studies show a link between osteoporosis and gum disease, although more research is needed. To prevent the occurrence of gum disease, brush with an ADA-approved toothpaste, floss daily, and see your dentist regularly. Tell your dentist about any changes in your oral health, as well as changes in medications and systemic health. With regular dental visits, you can prevent many of the oral conditions from which older women commonly suffer.

While all this may sound disheartening, the good news is that your dentist can help you maintain optimal oral health indefinitely. Many women think tooth loss is simply a part of the various stages of life, but it doesn’t have to be. With proper care and maintenance, your teeth can serve you well throughout your lifetime.