Rolling with the Changes throughout a Woman’s Life –
A healthy mouth is the key to a healthy body
There are many rites of passage that we all look forward to throughout life—that first job, getting married, buying a home and even retirement, to name a few. But for women, there are some milestones that involve hormonal changes in the body, and the mouth is a prime target for these changes.
While bacterial plaque is the most common cause for periodontal (gum) disease, hormonal changes, from pre-puberty through post-menopause, encourage the oral soft tissues to react more dramatically to the presence of bacteria. The risk can be inflammation and recession of the gum tissue along with eventual destruction of the jawbone – even loss of teeth. Beyond the damage to the oral cavity, strikingly dangerous consequences can occur throughout the body.
Periodontal disease is a common and challenging bacterial infection that affects the gums and the bone supporting the teeth. The Centers for Disease Control reveal that up to 80 percent of the adult population has some level of periodontal disease. Because it is a silent disease until its later stages, only about 10% know they have periodontal disease and even less are being treated for their disease.
Because hormonal changes experienced by women through different life stages can increase susceptibility to periodontal disease, there are specific times in a woman’s life when she needs to take extra care of her oral health. (During childbearing years, the need is even greater.*)
During puberty, a surge in the level of progesterone can cause increased blood circulation to the gums. This can lead to an increase in inflammation, irritation and subsequent gum sensitivity as the gums react more dramatically to the presence of the bacteria in the gumline.
Swollen, tender and/or bleeding gums can be much more prevalent during menstruation, again due to an increase in progesterone entering the blood stream. Generally this occurs three to four days before menstruation begins.
Hormonal changes during pregnancy can cause a dramatic increase in inflammation of gum tissues, especially during the second trimester. This can be dangerous to the unborn baby, and to the mom. Women with periodontal disease during pregnancy may be up to seven times more likely to deliver a pre-term or low-birth-weight baby, according to Dr. Marjorie Jeffcoat. As the level of periodontal infection increases, so do the risks to mother and baby, such as gestational diabetes, hypertension and pre-eclampsia in the mother and a myriad of complications for the baby.
In the publication Obstetrics and Gynecology, February 2010, Dr. Yipping Han published the first documented case of the stillbirth of a full-term baby who succumbed as a direct result of one strain of its mother’s periodontal bacteria crossing the placenta.
Periodontal disease can also affect conception. An Australian study published in 2012 found that women with periodontal disease take an average of two months longer to conceive (seven months) than those without gum problems (five months).
If you are already pregnant, a periodontal exam is critical. Contrary to outdated thought, periodontal treatment during pregnancy is not only safe, it may be life-saving for both you and your child.
Birth control pills can also cause a fluctuation in the amounts of progesterone in a woman’s system, causing gum swelling, sensitivity and bleeding. These symptoms can cause an exaggerated reaction to toxins produced by plaque. Always be sure to tell your dentist if you are taking oral contraceptives.
Menopause can contribute to the thinning of gum tissues as well as decreased salivary flow or “dry mouth,” which can result in a significant increase in tooth decay and gum disease in a very short period of time. Additionally, there are over 600 prescription medications that cause dry mouth. If you suffer from dry mouth, do discuss this concern with your dentist.
The decline in estrogen that occurs with menopause also puts women at risk for osteoporosis. Weakening or loss of bone density, especially in the jaw, can lead to receding gums and an increased risk for periodontal disease with tooth loss.
If progesterone is taken for hormone replacement therapy, there may be an increase in the inflammatory reaction of gum tissues to bacterial plaque.
Don’t take unnecessary risks with your health.
According to a Report of the US Surgeon General, an oral examination can reveal signs and symptoms of over 90% of systemic diseases. “There is a direct link between periodontal disease and the rest of the body,” says Dr. Samaha of Port Warwick Dental Arts. “Bleeding gums allow for dangerous periodontal bacteria to invade the bloodstream and set up inflammation and destruction throughout the body. In addition to the above, periodontal disease has been linked to diabetes, heart attack, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and lung and kidney disease. Periodontal disease has also been associated with many cancers such as pancreatic, prostate, breast, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, multiple myeloma, oral, kidney, lung and colon cancers.”
As Dr. Samaha reveals, “It takes a healthy mouth to ensure a healthy body.”
Good oral care goes beyond daily brushing and flossing.
Excellent nutrition is integral to excellent dental health throughout your life. This not only has to do with avoiding sugary and acidic drinks such as soft drinks and diet drinks, but juices (even all natural fruit juices). Much safer for the teeth and more nourishing for the gum tissues are vegetable juices.
And, of course, there is no substitute for visiting your dentist regularly. If you are overdue for a visit, especially if you are experiencing a phase of hormonal change, don’t pass up this opportunity to be sure that your smile is bright and your body healthy. Call Dr. Samaha’s office today for a periodontal screening and consultation.