By Dr Tamika Ferguson
As women, we know that we have very specific health needs. We know in order to stay healthy, diet, exercise, brushing and flossing our teeth intermingled with regular visits to our doctor and dentist are extremely important. Further, at certain times in our lives we have to take better care of ourselves.
With all the health changes during particular stages, women can expect to see changes within the entire body including the mouth. Women may be more susceptible to oral health problems because of hormonal changes. Increased or decreased levels of sex hormones can kick-start oral health problems. The four main stages where we have to be cognizant of any changes in our oral health are: puberty, menstruation, pregnancy and menopause.
During puberty there is a surge in production of the female hormones oestrogen and progesterone which can cause increased blood circulation to the gums. This increased level of blood circulation can change the way gum tissue reacts. Your gum’s sensitivity may increase and have a greater susceptibility or reaction to any form of irritation. Some researchers have found there is a corresponding relationship between the increase in sex hormone levels with an increase in the growth of bacteria. As a young girl matures or progresses through puberty, the response to a small irritant will decrease.
During the menstrual cycle, some women may experience changes within the mouth including swollen gums, swollen salivary glands or bleeding gums. This is again due to the increased level of sex hormones accompanied by plaque accumulation. In some cases, though rarely seen, women may experience soreness or bleeding in the mouth two to three days before their cycle begins. Gingivitis due to menstruation usually occurs right before a woman’s cycle and clears up once her cycle has started.
Hormone levels change considerably during pregnancy, therefore there is a higher risk of gingivitis in pregnant women. Occasionally, the inflamed gum tissue will form a large growth called a pregnancy tumour (pyogenic granuloma). This growth is an extreme inflammatory response to any local irritant that may be present. Pregnancy tumours are usually painless, however, they can become painful if they interfere with your bite. If while pregnant one of these growths forms, it is best to visit your dentist.
If your mouth is in a healthy state before pregnancy you are less likely to have any problems. In order to reduce the amount of gingival problems it is important to seek a professional cleaning and keep up with your at home oral care routine.
Due to advancing age, medications and hormonal fluctuations there are numerous oral changes that occur. Some of these changes include: greater sensitivity to hot and cold, a burning sensation, decreased salivary flow, and altered taste. Because of reduced salivary flow the mouth becomes dry. Dry mouth can result in the development of tooth decay and gum disease as there is insufficient saliva production to moisten and cleanse the mouth.
We should always have a good oral hygiene routine but especially during these stages in life. Brushing twice daily and flossing once a day is a must. Further, visiting your dentist twice a year for a professional cleaning and examination will help tremendously in reducing risks during these stages. As women, we must be aware of the overall changes in our bodies, and particularly our mouths.