TOOTH TALK - WOMEN HAVE SPECIFIC ORAL HEALTH ISSUES TO ADDRESS
Everyone deserves a beautiful smile and regular dental care is necessary for everyone, beginning in early childhood. Women, however, need to be aware of challenges that they may face through life stages.
The average female deals with bloating, irritability, moodiness, and the occasional hot flash or emotional outburst due to hormones, but they seldom consider the affect of those fluctuating hormones on dental health. According to the Academy of General Dentistry, oral health is hormone dependant as well. From puberty to menopause and beyond, the hormonal changes in women can have a dramatic effect on oral health.
For the pre-teen, interest in dental issues is probably focused on the whiteness, straightness and appearance of her teeth to her peers. Image is everything at that stage, but long-term dental health is more important. According to TeenHealth.com approximately 60 percent of 15-year-old teenagers have gingivitis and their consumption of sugary snacks and sodas make it more important to brush and floss regularly. During puberty, hormonal fluctuations can make gums more susceptible to gingivitis. Gums may appear red and swollen, and they can be prone to bleeding during brushing. The surge in hormones may cause mouth swelling, leading to sore spots. During menstruation, women who have a tendency to develop canker sores and cold sores may develop a pattern of mouth sores during their monthly cycles. A caring dentist can offer treatment and coping strategies.
It is important to let your dentist know if you are taking oral contraceptives. The drugs mimic pregnancy because they contain progesterone or estrogen, and gingivitis may occur with long-term use. Women who use birth control pills are twice as likely to develop dry socket (a complication of tooth extraction) and should discuss major procedures while taking the pill. Gingivitis is the most common oral condition associated with pregnancy. During pregnancy, the chemical composition of saliva changes, thus reducing saliva's antimicrobial capacity. Dry mouth is often a side-effect of pregnancy and too little saliva makes one prone to cavity formation, but your dentist can offer tips to help keep your mouth healthy. Sip water frequently to moisten and cleanse your mouth. Use toothpaste which does not contain sodium laurel sulfate, which is a drying agent. Avoid mouthwashes and rinsing with alcohol-based products, which also contribute to dryness.
The surge in estrogen and progesterone may cause gum changes in pregnancy. In some cases, large lumps called pregnancy tumors (inflammatory, non-cancerous growths that develop when swollen gums react strongly to irritants) can develop. They may develop at any stage of pregnancy but are most common in the second trimester. Usually these tumors shrink soon after the pregnancy is over, but need special attention while they are active. Women with periodontal disease may be at risk for preterm, low birth-weight babies. For those experiencing morning sickness, it is important to neutralize the acid caused by vomiting, which causes tooth erosion. I recommend using a paste made of baking soda and water, rubbing it on the teeth. After 30 seconds, rinse off the paste, then brush and floss. If this is not possible, rinse with water. The fear that dental treatment might harm the developing baby sometimes causes women to delay dental check-ups when they need them most. Untreated, decayed teeth can put a mother and her baby at risk for infection.
Menopause may bring more age and hormonal issues to the mature woman. In addition to dry mouth, older women may experience altered taste perception, pain or burning sensations, sometimes due, in part, to prescription medications. Patients with these symptoms should see their dentist to rule out any other cause for their conditions and receive recommendations for treatment to ensure a great smile into those senior years.
As a dentist, my concern is with the overall health and well-being of my patients. It is important to know their medical history as well as current medications. Certain chronic conditions, and their treatment, may affect the mouth and teeth in dramatic ways. The changes may be slight and barely noticeable but may cause long term weakening or destruction of teeth. Diet pills and certain medications (over-the-counter as well as prescriptions) can decrease salivary flow, which puts patients at risk for cavities, gum disease and discomfort. Patients with eating disorders, such as bulimia (self-induced vomiting) can't hide their symptoms from their dentists because the episodes of binging and purging cause erosion on the backside of the upper front teeth or sores that appear at the corners of the mouth. Rigid or fad dieting may affect oral health and smoking also creates a higher risk for periodontal disease.
It’s important to have an open dialog with your dentist regarding changes in your general health. Together, dentist and patient can decide the best preventative steps and treatment necessary at all stages of a woman’s life. There’s nothing more beautiful on any woman than a healthy, confident smile!
Tooth Talk will appear every other Monday in the Union-Sun & Journal. Igor Kaplansky, DDS, graduated cum laude from the University at Buffalo School of Dentistry after earning a degree in his native Russia. Kaplansky is a family dentist, covering all aspects of dental health, including braces and implants. His office is at 8038 Rochester Road, Gasport. Contact him at 772-7500 or www.drkaplansky.com. If there is a topic you would like discussed in this column, email your request to [email protected]