periodontal disease
Women and Periodontal Disease

Women have special needs at different stages of life. Puberty, menstruation, pregnancy and menopause all can influence your oral health and the need for dental treatment. During these times, your body experiences hormonal changes that can make your gums sensitive and increase your risk for gum disease. By understanding these changes, you can practice good oral health habits that can keep your teeth and gums healthy.

Women are especially susceptible to periodontal disease at certain stages of life. Hormonal changes can affect the blood supply to the gums, and response to irritants from plaque may be exaggerated. If you are already prone to periodontal disease, you may find the problem worsening at these times.

The Teenage Years

As females reach puberty, the production of the sex hormones progesterone and estrogen increases. This hormonal increase can exaggerate the way gum tissues react to the irritants in plaque. Gums may become red, tender, swollen and likely to bleed easily when chewing or brushing teeth. After the early teen years, women may notice less inflammation and bleeding.

Your Monthly Cycle

During menstruation, you may notice several changes in your mouth, including swollen gums, lesions, canker sores and swollen salivary glands. Some women don't notice any changes at all. For others, particularly those for whom plaque or pockets are a problem, the gums may bleed in the days before the period begins. These symptoms may go away once your period starts, but symptoms should not be ignored. Your dentist may prescribe special cleanings, gum treatment or topical anesthetics to ease any discomfort.

Pregnancy and Your Oral Health

During pregnancy, your body's hormone levels rise considerably. Gingivitis, especially common during the second to eighth months of pregnancy, may cause red, puffy or tender gums that tend to bleed when you brush. This sensitivity is an exaggerated response to plaque and is caused by an increased level of progesterone in you system. Your dentist may recommend more frequent cleanings during your second trimester or early third trimester to help you avoid problems.

If you are Taking Oral Contraceptives

One of the most common problems for women who take oral contraceptives, or birth control pills, is inflamed gums. the hormone in oral contraceptives increases the level of progesterone in your system. Prolonged use of birth control pills may cause your gums to turn red, bleed, and swell in response to any local irritants in the mouth, such as food or plaque. Good oral hygiene is especially important when taking birth control pills. Tell your dentist if you are taking oral contraceptives, because some medications, such as antibiotics, can lessen the effect of an oral contraceptive.

Reaching Menopause

You may notice a number of physical changes when you reach menopause, including some that occur in the mouth. These may include a burning sensation, altered taste sensations (salty, peppery or sour), a decrease in saliva flow that can result in dry mouth, and greater sensitivity to hot and cold foods or drinks.

Talk with your dentist if you experience any oral problems that you think might be related to menopause. Be sure to mention any medications you are taking (both prescription and over-the-counter products), because many drugs can have dental-related side-effects, including dry mouth. Saliva substitutes may be prescribed to reduce any mouth dryness. Vitamin C and B complexes may be helpful as well. Some women whose physicians have recommended hormone replacement therapy may notice an improvement in their oral symptoms. For good overall health, eat a balanced diet and discuss with your physician how to get the calcium you need to prevent osteoporosis ("porous bones"), the risk of which increases after menopause.

Timothy M. Hale, D.D.S. Practice Limited to Periodontics and Dental Implants Tel: (281)392-6000 Fax: (281) 392-6811