If you’re a pregnant woman dealing with morning sickness or a menopausal woman suffering through hot flashes, your gums are probably the last thing on your mind. However, dentists say women need to pay special attention to oral health care or risk health complications.Changes in hormone levels during many phases of a woman’s life — starting with puberty and menstruation right through to pregnancy and menopause — can affect how her gums react to plaque, dentists say.
Gum disease is inflammation and a chronic low-grade infection. We go to the doctor for other infections, but we tend to ignore gum disease.
Bleeding of the gums can cause bacteria to enter the bloodstream, which can affect issues from heart disease to pulmonary problems and even Alzheimer’s disease.
Your mouth is a passageway to the rest of your body, but we really ignore it and abuse it. Taking care of your mouth is a really cost-effective way to avoid health problems.
The symptoms of gum disease include red, swollen, tender or bleeding gums, but it’s possible to have gum disease and not know it.
Periodontal disease is really a silent disease, but it’s the No. 1 cause of tooth loss. It doesn’t always cause pain and discomfort, but if you brush and your gums bleed, that’s a sign of unhealthy gums. It also can cause the bone around the tooth to run away and you form a pocket where the toothbrush can’t get in.
There is much research on the risk for heart disease and other types of cardiovascular disease when gum disease is present. It can lead to endocarditis, or inflammation of the heart chamber and valves, which can be fatal.
The good news is that many of the potential problems can be prevented with good oral health. Regular brushing and flossing as well as trips to the dentist for teeth cleaning are essential to good oral health for anyone, especially women.
A really important time for good oral health is pregnancy.
Hormone levels during pregnancy can cause the gums to become inflamed and you can get pregnancy gingivitis. Make sure you brush and floss regularly. Rinse your mouth with baking soda to remove acid. Chew gum with xylitol (a sugar substitute made from sugar alcohol), which can decrease bacteria that causes periodontal disease.
Women may also consider seeing their dentist every three months during pregnancy, and some insurance companies will pay for more frequent visits, dentists said. If dental work is needed that cannot be postponed until after the birth, the second trimester is the preferred time to do it.
Once baby is born, moms can pass disease-causing bacteria to their babies, too, so avoid cleaning spoons or pacifiers by licking them with your tongue.
Throughout the reproductive years, some women might find their gums swell or bleed before their periods. In menopause, women might experience red spots or lesions on the tongue called geographic tongue or they may feel a burning or scalding sensation in their mouth, known as burning mouth syndrome. This occurs most often in middle-aged and older women, perhaps due to fluctuating hormones.
Osteoporosis is often a concern that women have as they age and many are taking bisphosphonates — recognizable by the brand names Fosamax, Boniva or Actonel — to prevent and treat bone loss. However, dentists are becoming concerned about a dental side effect that people might not realize.
These drugs affect bone healing and it’s a very serious issue because people are losing parts of their jaws. The name of the condition is called osteonecrosis of the jaw, which is a disfiguring breakdown of the jaw bone.
If patients on these medications eventually need dental work, such as a tooth extraction, dentists might be hesitant to do it for fear the bone won’t heal.
The problems usually arise when the bisphosphonates are given in high doses, particularly intravenously, dentists said. However, the medications have not been used long enough to really know how risky long-term use might be, they said.
These drugs have huge plusses to them, but there needs to be more awareness among the medical community, the dental community and patients who need to understand the risks so the benefits can be weighed. Should these drugs be prescribed prohibitively when maybe diet or weight-bearing exercise can help instead?