Women’s oral health through the life stages
As you journey through life, your body changes – and your teeth and gums are no exception. For women, hormonal changes and other factors such as pregnancy can significantly impact oral health. As part of Women’s Health Week 2021, JCU Dentistry grad Dr Mikaela Chinotti shares some of her key tips for girls and women to help maintain healthy teeth and gums for life.
Dr Chinotti was a part of JCU’s very first Bachelor of Dental Surgery intake back in 2009. After graduating, she went into clinical practice in Townsville and Ingham and now works for the Australian Dental Association (ADA) in Sydney as an Oral Health Promoter.
“Women need to be aware of the impact hormones can have on oral health in the different life stages,” Dr Chinotti says. “Your teeth aren’t just there for smiling — although that’s a big part of it — they serve so many purposes and it’s important to take care of them.”
For young girls
Until girls reach puberty, they will have a very similar experience to boys regarding their oral health. The big issue dentists are seeing, for both boys and girls, in the younger ages is tooth decay. There are a few contributing factors, but the main culprit is sugar. Parents need to be taking their children to the dentist regularly, helping them to brush and floss daily, and limiting their sugar intake.
When you’re coming into maturation and puberty, the hormonal fluctuations create a lot of changes. Girls who have poor oral health may experience increased mouth soreness, bleeding gums and tenderness in the days leading up to their period. The big tip here is to remember that better brushing and flossing habits will lead to healthier gums.
For young adults
Changes in hormone levels can lead to an increased risk of gingivitis. This is inflammation of the gums caused by bacteria around and in between the teeth, so again brushing and flossing are very important!
For women planning for pregnancy or expecting
If you are planning for pregnancy, it’s a good idea to book in for a dentist appointment as it will help flag any potential issues that may be exacerbated through pregnancy. For women who are pregnant, their gums may become more pronounced and puffy as the gums are more sensitive to bacteria and can be inflamed more easily. If it’s causing persistent pain or you are concerned, you should go see your dentist.
Changes in eating habits and morning sickness can also affect oral health. The stomach acids brought up from vomiting can soften the enamel coating of the teeth. So if you’re brushing your teeth after vomiting (which you may understandably want to do), the pressure on the teeth increases the risk of wear as you abrade the surface with the bristles. It is best to wait at least 60 minutes before brushing your teeth after vomiting. In the meantime, you could rinse with either water or fluoride mouthwash.
For women approaching menopause
Like in a woman’s younger years, the changes in hormones through menopause can bring about ill effects. An estimated 60 per cent of women with whole-body effects from menopause will experience oral changes as well, such as burning mouth syndrome. If people experience those types of symptoms, they're often referred to an oral medicine specialist for further investigation.
For women in their later years
For many older women, they may be starting to take more medication for various conditions. Polypharmacy (taking multiple medications for concurrent medical conditions) can increase the risk of your mouth becoming quite dry which can cause discomfort in speaking or swallowing. With less saliva comes an increased risk of developing tooth decay. To offset these effects from medication, make sure to stay hydrated and try chewing sugar-free gum to stimulate saliva. Depending on the extent of the dry mouth, you may want to look at a lubricant or mouthwash, as recommended by your dentist.
For older women affected by osteoporosis, medication for this condition may impact dental treatment. The medications that may be given for osteoporosis can affect the cells that make bone, which impacts recovery from dental procedures such as tooth extractions. There are ways to mitigate the risks so if you are taking osteoporosis medication, including injections, it is important to let your dentist know.
For women of all ages
As mentioned in some of the tips above, there are a few things we as dentists would love to see you doing regularly to help you maintain your teeth for life:
- Visit your dentist regularly (every six to twelve months)
- Brush your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste
- Clean between your teeth daily with dental floss or a similar product
- Eat a nutritious, balanced diet that’s low in added sugar
Thank you Dr Mikaela Chinotti for sharing these tips and for your commitment to improving the oral health of all Australians. JCU’s College of Medicine and Dentistry loves sharing the stories and experiences of our staff and students. If you would like to share your story, get in touch with us.