Hormones can affect many aspects of a woman’s health – their weight, their mood, and even their dental health. You may be surprised to learn that women are more susceptible to gum disease during periods of hormone surges such as puberty, menstruation, and pregnancy. While changing hormones are a fact of life, being aware of how hormones affect our oral health can help us manage and prevent their impact.
During puberty, teenage girls may experience red, swollen, and bleeding gums. This occurs because of an increase in the female hormones, estrogen and progesterone, which cause more blood to flow to the gums. This increased blood flow makes the gums more sensitive and reactive to the presence of plaque and bacteria. In response, the gums become inflamed, swell, and bleed. The best treatment for this is prevention. Removing plaque and bacteria thoroughly each day by brushing twice a day and flossing daily can reduce gum inflammation, discomfort, and bleeding.
Hormonal changes during menstruation can also impact oral health. While most women will not experience changes in their oral health in the days before their period, some have reported experiencing swollen gums, bleeding gums, canker sores, and swollen salivary glands. Luckily, these symptoms often subside after menstruation ends.
Pregnancy puts our bodies in hormonal hyper drive. As many as half of all expectant women develop pregnancy gingivitis, a mild form of gum disease most common between the second and eighth months of pregnancy that causes the gums to be red, tender, and sore. Dentists may recommend more frequent cleanings during the second trimester and early third trimester in addition to diligent home care to help control pregnancy gingivitis.
Menopause is a huge change in a woman’s life and her mouth. Two critical oral changes that may occur during menopause are dry mouth and bone loss. Dry mouth is caused by a decrease in saliva flow. Saliva functions to cleanse the teeth and neutralize cavity-causing bacteria. Without saliva, extensive tooth decay can occur. Sucking on sugar-free candy or gum and using an artificial saliva spray or rinse can help stimulate saliva flow and replace oral moisture. Your dentist may also recommend prescription strength fluoride toothpaste to help reduce the risk of tooth decay resulting from dry mouth. The decrease in estrogen that accompanies menopause can also put women at risk for bone loss. Bone loss in the jaw can lead to tooth loss.
While signs of gingivitis – red, swollen, bleedy gums – are often apparent, bone loss may be difficult for you to notice at home. Visiting your dentist regularly for professional cleanings and oral examinations will allow them to monitor your gum and bone health as well as your overall dental health during times of hormonal change.