Everyone needs to look after their oral health, but for women, surges in hormones at specific periods in their life can affect their oral health significantly. Women have special oral health requirements during the unique stages of puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, lactation and menopause, making it even more important to maintain good dental hygiene habits during these times. Women can expect their dental health to change during these specific periods of their life in the following ways:
- Puberty: The increase in oestrogen and progesterone causes blood vessels to dilate which can affect gums and can cause bleeding, swelling and redness. The changes in hormones affects the bacteria in the mouth at this time, meaning that cavities and bad breath can develop. Ulcers are also more common in teenagers than children.
- Menstruation: In the lead up to their period, some women experience swollen or sensitive gums that are prone to bleeding, while others can experience mouth ulcers or cold sores. Once menstruation begins, these symptoms commonly disappear.
- Use of oral contraceptive: Taking an oral contraceptive is commonplace for many women. The synthetic hormones in these tablets can cause gingivitis, an inflammation of the gums, which results from an excessive build up of plaque. It is important to remove plaque adequately through careful brushing and flossing to avoid gingivitis.
- Pregnancy: The significant changes in hormones during pregnancy make oral health care a priority for women during this time. Gingivitis is, again, common in pregnant women, but also ‘pregnancy tumours’, which are non-cancerous, benign growths that develop when swollen gums become irritated. Normally, these tumours will naturally shrink and disappear after the baby’s birth, although if they interfere with brushing or are uncomfortable, the dentist may decide to remove them.
- Lactation: There are many benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and baby, but the period of lactation can also negatively impact a woman’s oral health. Adapting to life with a new baby can often mean that women skip brushing and flossing their teeth, resulting in an increased likelihood of cavities and gum disease developing. The increase in stress and tiredness can also cause Bruxism to develop, which is the grinding or clenching of teeth during sleep. This can result in headaches, neck and jaw pain, or teeth cracking.
- Menopause: There are many possible changes that can occur in a woman’s mouth during menopause. These include burning mouth syndrome, dry mouth, gingivitis and mucosal changes which can result in changes in the appearance of gums and can cause them to bleed easily.