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Dental problems? Blame your hormones, ladies

Last updated on: May 23, 2017 10:46 IST

The increased levels of female hormones during puberty, pregnancy and menopause can cause dental problems, warns Lt Gen Dr Vimal Arora.

Do women have special needs to look after their oral health?

It's hard to believe that needs for both sexes can be different when the method for brushing is same.

Researchers have found possible correlation between the two and the most viable attributable reason is the massive biological changes happening in women as compared to men.

There are five reasons why women need special dental care; attaining puberty, during menses, while using birth control pills/patches or injections, during pregnancy and menopause.

1. Change in women's hormones affect gums

Let's take the most common prevalent disease amongst adults in India, i.e. the gum disease which is a bacterial infection causing inflammation or swelling of the gums surrounding the teeth wherein the toxins may enter the blood stream and cause other health complications like low birth weight or pre-term babies, stroke, heart disease, diabetes, respiratory problems and other associated problems.

Changes in women hormones' levels cause the gums to behave differently and the response is much more aggravated to plaque which sticks around the teeth.

2. Gum problems during puberty, pregnancy

During the pubertal spurt, many girls would find their gums feeling congested or swell and show signs of spontaneous bleed even while normal brushing or flossing prior to periods while others may have minute oral ulcers or sensitive mouth.

The increased levels of female hormones; estrogen and progesterone during puberty causes increased blood flow to gums resulting in such exaggerated response of the gums.

Menstrual gingivitis clears up on its own, however, the more severe reaction may leave some lasting damage if there is already presence of plaque in the mouth.

3. Women on pills

Women who are on birth control pills/patches definitely are prone to gum disease.

They must share this information with dental surgeons so that they can differentiate between an exaggerated response or the actual disease. Incidence of 'dry socket', a painful condition, after tooth extraction is much higher in women on pills.

4. Pregnancy induced problems

The situation is similar during pregnancy where starting 2nd or 3rd month, there is increased incidence of 'pregnancy gingivitis' or 'pregnancy epulis', which show greater severity if already gum disease is present.

Further, during pregnancy the frequent vomiting can damage the teeth as the acid causes breakdown of the enamel. It is best to rinse the mouth thoroughly immediately after the vomit.

5. Menopause

Menopause means end of menses because of reduced hormonal production.

There are numerous oral changes which occur as a consequence and can include altered taste, burning sensations in the mouth, greater sensitivity to hot and cold foods and beverages, and decreased salivary flow leading to dry mouth.

Dry mouth, in turn, can result in the development of tooth decay and gum disease, because saliva is not available to moisten and cleanse the mouth by neutralising acids produced by plaque.

Simple tips to prevent these problems

  • Visit your dentist once in six months.
  • Don't be in a hurry to brush your  teeth. Take your time.  A good trick to ensure that you're brushing your teeth long enough is to sing 'Happy Birthday' or your ABCs twice before you finish.
  • Choose the right kind of brush to clean your teeth. A soft brush is highly recommended.
  • Floss regularly, and not only before a dental appointment or a big date.
  • Drink enough water daily. Water plays a significant role in oral health and in preventing dry mouth, which could be a problematic as we age. Eight cups of water a day remains a general guideline.
  • Remember dry mouth could also be because of medications (heart and blood pressure), lack of water or just the natural decline in saliva production due to biological aging.

When to visit the dentist

  • If the gum congestion or condition does not subside after the menses.
  • If you are taking pills or pregnant and have sensitive or bleeding gums.
  • If you are on anti-depressants or have dry or painful mouth.

 Lead image used for representational purposes only. Image: Kind courtesy Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade/Wikimedia Commons

The author is chief clinical officer, Clove Dental. He was former director general of the Army Dental Corps.

Lt Gen Dr Vimal Arora