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How Hormones Impact Oral Health

A woman’s health needs are unique, and her oral health needs are no different. Recent research has revealed that fluctuating hormones during puberty, menstruation, menopause, and pregnancy can impact how her mouth is able to manage the bacteria responsible for gingivitis and periodontal disease. Luckily, there’s something that can be done to prevent these problems.

Gum disease, which can progress to periodontal disease, is caused by bacteria found in dental plaque, the sticky white film that constantly forms on teeth. In the first stages, gum disease affects the gums and supporting structures of teeth. It causes the gum tissue to swell, turn red, and bleed easily. The condition is usually pretty painless at this point.

In some cases, the signs of gingivitis may only be visible to your dentist. But, if left untreated, gum disease can progress to a more serious condition where the bone and tissue surrounding teeth is compromised. Beyond this point, teeth can eventually become loose and may be lost.

Puberty

We all know hormones are completely out of whack during this developmental stage of life. Not only does this change cause some crazy mood swings, it’s also responsible for an increase in blood circulation in your gums, which, in turn, can increase sensitivity and insight a greater reaction to irritants. There’s also some evidence to prove that increased sex hormones can cause an increase in the growth of some bacteria around the gum line.

In any case, the gums will react to local irritants and swell. The only way to remove these irritants and maintain healthy gums is by seeing your dentist. After that, it’s important that you’re regularly maintaining your oral health, brushing and flossing frequently. If this condition goes untreated, the bone and tissue surrounding teeth can become damaged.

As you progress through this stage of life, the tendency for your gums to become irritated and swollen as a result of being exposed to small amounts of irritants will diminish. Though, that’s no reason to stop brushing, flossing, or visiting your dentist regularly.

Menstruation

In women, gingivitis (the disease responsible for red, puffy, easily irritated gums) can be more prevalent during menstruation. This occurs as a result of an increased amount of progesterone in your system before the start of your period, along with an accumulation of plaque. In some cases, women will experience sore or bleeding gums in the days preceding their period. Another condition, that is quite rare, is the reappearance of gingivitis during a woman’s menstrual cycle. Those suffering with the condition will experience bleeding gums, bright red and swollen gum tissue, and sores on the tongue and the insides of cheeks.

Pregnancy

As an old wives’ tale says “A tooth is lost for every child.” And, though this statement is slightly exaggerated, there is some merit to it. When your hormones fluctuate during pregnancy, they can negatively affect the health of your gums. In most cases, women will experience an increased amount of the bacteria that causes gingivitis around the second or third month of pregnancy. This condition typically worsens as the pregnancy progresses, and begins to improve in the ninth month. Those inflicted with this condition often experience an increased amount of swelling, bleeding, and redness in the gum tissue caused by a small amount of plaque, caused by an increased level of progesterone in the system.

Though, women who have healthy gums before becoming pregnant are less likely to have this problem because pregnancy gingivitis typically affects areas of previous inflammation, not healthy gum tissue. As such, if you’ve experienced some swelling and bleeding in your gums before becoming pregnant, you might be at an increased risk for pregnancy gingivitis.

Like any other form of gingivitis, pregnancy gingivitis can cause damage to the gums and bone surrounding teeth if left untreated, and can result in tissue and bone loss. Since women typically experience a great increase in estrogen and progesterone throughout their pregnancy, an increase in gingival issues may also occur during those times. And, because your oral tissues are more sensitive, they will react strongly to any local irritants.

To keep the number of gingival problems to a minimum, you should get regular professional cleanings, and keep up with a diligent home care routine that includes brushing and flossing daily. If it’s time to visit your dentist for a check-up, don’t skip it. In fact, cleanings might be more beneficial while in your second or early in the third trimester. And remember, if you experience any swelling or bleeding in the gums, you should alert your dentist as soon as possible.

In some cases, the inflamed gum tissue will form a large lump. These growths, often called pregnancy tumors or granuloma, typically appear during the third month of pregnancy but can occur at any point during the pregnancy. This large swelling of gum tissue is not cancerous, and is caused by an extreme inflammatory response to local irritants like plaque and food particles.

These pregnancy tumors usually look like large lumps on the gum tissue, with several deep red pinpoint markings on them. They normally don’t cause any pain, but can become painful if the lump interferes with your bite or if food particles get trapped underneath. It can be treated by professional removal of local irritants, along with diligent at-home oral care. You could also consider removing your pregnancy tumor, but would need to discuss that with your doctor.

Both pregnancy tumors and gingivitis typically diminish following pregnancy, but won’t go away completely. With that said, if you’ve experienced any issues while pregnant, it’s recommended that you have your entire mouth examined after giving birth. During this examination, your dentist should check your periodontal health and determine the correct course of treatment.

Oral Contraceptives

Taking oral contraceptives, like birth control pills, can subject you to the same oral health problems that some pregnant women experience. This happens because the hormones in oral contraceptives increase the levels of progesterone in your system, allowing local irritants like plaque and food to become even more bothersome, causing your gums to turn red, swollen, and bleed. Medications, like antibiotics, can help soothe the symptoms caused by the increase in hormones, so make sure you tell your dentist about any side affects you may be experiencing.

Menopause

In most cases, any oral health issues you experience while in menopause is not directly related to the change in hormones. Additionally, if you are taking estrogen supplements while going through menopause, these shouldn’t have any impact on the health of your teeth and gums. On the other hand, progesterone supplements can have an impact on gum sensitivities and cause an exaggerated reaction to local irritants (swollen, red gums with the tendency to bleed).

Very rarely, a woman will experience a condition called menopausal gingivostomatitis; a condition that is marked by gums that are red and shiny, bleed easily, and range in color from normally pale to deep red. Other signs of this condition include a burning sensation in the mouth, abnormal taste sensations (salty, peppery, or sour are most common), extreme sensitivities to hot and cold foods, and difficulty removing partial dentures. If you’ve been diagnosed with this condition, your dentist or periodontist can prescribe special medications to help you manage your condition.

As always, if you’re concerned about the state of your oral health or have any questions, don’t hesitate to talk with your dentist or periodontist; they’ll be happy to answer your questions and address any concerns you might have.

With each phase of a woman’s life, new changes arise. Since your oral health can have an impact on the rest of your body, it’s important that it remains at the forefront of your overall health and well-being. After all, nothing is better than starting every day with a bright and healthy smile.

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