Although women in general tend to take better care of their teeth than men, their oral health is not that much better. Why? Because periodic fluctuations in hormone levels during the different stages of a woman's life can affect many different areas of the body, including the gingiva (the gums).
Recent studies have shown that 23% of women ages 30 to 54 have periodontal disease and 44% of women ages 55 to 90 who still have their teeth also have periodontal disease. As mentioned earlier in our About Gum Disease... section, periodontal disease is a silent, slowly progressive condition that may not have any symptoms (i.e pain, loose teeth) until it is too late.
Puberty in women is marked by an increase in the level of sex hormones (progesterone, estrogen) which increase the level of blood flow to the gums, making them more sensitive to irritants like plaque or tartar. The gums may turn tender, red, and swollen during this time but these changes are usually temporary an diminish as a young woman gets older.
Sometimes women will notice bright red, swollen, bleeding gums and sores on the inside of the cheek just before their period. This menstruation gingivitis clears up once a woman's period has begun.
Women with infections such as periodontal disease are at risk for premature, low birth weight babies. Pregnancy also may bring certain gingival and periodontal changes for the expectant mother. During the second or third month of pregnancy, women may experience what is termed pregnancy gingivitis; a condition characterized by tender, swollen, bleeding gums. This condition, once present, may increase in severity through the eighth month of pregnancy then begin to resolve.
In some cases, gums already sensitive and swollen due to pregnancy gingivitis can react strongly to irritants and form large lumps called pregnancy tumors. These tumors are NOT cancerous and are generally painless. Persistent tumors may have to be removed by a periodontist.Read more about gum disease and low birth weight babies below
Women who use oral contraceptives may be experience similar symptoms as pregnant women in the form of red, swollen, bleeding gums. Women taking oral contraceptives should be aware that medications sometimes used to treat periodontal disease (i.e. antibiotics) can decrease the efficacy of their contraceptive medication. Be sure to ask your dentist, periodontist, or pharmacist before taking any prescribed medication while on oral contraceptive therapy.
Oral changes in menopausal or post-menopausal women may include dry mouth, pain and burning sensations in the gums, cheeks or tongue, or altered taste. In addition, conditions where the gums peel off and leave a raw bleeding surface (termed desquamative gingivitis) are more prevalent in menopausal or post-menopausal women.
New research is finding that bone loss is associated with both periodontal disease and osteoporosis. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and proper nutrition which help fight osteoporosis may also be protective of the teeth.
What should you do?
Smoking, drug abuse, alcoholism, hypertension - all confirmed risk factors that contribute to pre-term, low birth weight babies.
Evidence is now available that a new risk factor, periodontal disease, can increase the risk of premature, low birth weight infants by SEVEN times - a risk greater than that posed by tobacco or alcohol.
The facts are indeed alarming: pre-term low birth weight babies (weight < 2500 grams at birth) are 40 times more likely to die, they account for 2/3 of neonatal deaths, and are at increased risk for congenital deformities.
More research is necessary to define the underlying mechanisms by which periodontal infections can affect the unborn child. However, one thing is clear: if you are thinking about becoming pregnant or are at risk for periodontal disease, the American Academy of Periodontology recommends that a periodontal examination be included as part of your prenatal care.
Please call us so that we can help you plan for a happy, worry-free pregnancy by scheduling a periodontal evaluation. Remember: it's not just your gums, it's your (and your baby's) health.