Oral Health and Women’s Hormones

24 August 2022

Through a significant portion of their lives women have drastic hormone fluctuations, far more than men.  As hormone levels change, the mouth can experience irritation, bleeding, and swelling.  Regular brushing and flossing can help.

During a menstrual cycle, including ovulation and the few days ahead of that, higher levels of progesterone will cause issues in the mouth.  During this time women are more prone to canker sores, which are small ulcers inside the mouth.  They are different from cold sores which are on the mouth and lips caused by herpes simplex virus type 1 and can be transmitted to others.  Canker sores won’t pass to someone else.

Birth control including oral contraceptives, vaginal ring, and intrauterine devices (IUD) raise both estrogen and progesterone levels and can cause the gums to be more sensitive.  If your dental work involves an extraction, be sure to inform your dentist.  Generally a clot will form over the empty space, or socket, where the tooth had been.  Women on birth control have a higher chance of that clot falling out, which leaves the nerves exposed (dry socket).  This is very painful.

Pregnancy has a profound effect.  Switch to a neutral flavor of toothpaste if you find the minty ones make you nauseous.  Be on the alert for some problems that result from the yo-yo of hormonal levels:

  • It is reported that 2 in 5 women experience gum disease during pregnancy. Periodontitis is an infection that occurs from a plaque build up.  Consistent brushing and flossing is essential.  Most of the problems occur in women who have irregular dental care and who smoke.
  • Loose teeth. Because the body is getting ready for childbirth, many joints and tissues loosen. This can include the mouth and gums.  Be alert for any changes to prevent tooth loss.
  • Morning sickness and heartburn can both affect the enamel coating on teeth.  With increased stomach acid, erosion can begin.  The ADA recommends rinsing the mouth with a solution of 1 teaspoon of baking soda in a cup of water.  Do this about half an hour before brushing to help preserve the enamel.

The next phase is menopause when estrogen levels drop.  Many women experience a burning sensation in the mouth.  Researchers don’t really know what causes it.  Saliva levels may drop.  This can give the woman dry mouth and resulting sore and sensitive gums.  Dentists also find more cavities, ulcers, infections, and other issues in menopausal women.

Osteoporosis is another symptom of aging.  It is the thinning of bone tissue with an increased risk of breakage.  The low levels of estrogen during menopause is part of the problem.  If the bone loss is in the jaw, it can cause loosening and loss of teeth.

Good oral health means visits to your dentist a minimum of once per year, preferably twice, and more often if issues present themselves.  Construct an eating plan around healthy choices and limit sugary foods.  Brush and floss often.  Don’t smoke; it raises the risk of oral and throat cancer, stains teeth, and is a major cause of bad breath.  Reduce the amount of soft drinks in a day.  Even diet drinks have acids that erode tooth enamel.  Drink at least eight glasses of water daily.

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