May 9-15 is National Women's Health Week, which begins each year on Mother's Day. It's an important opportunity to focus on the unique health challenges women face, and ways to better meet those challenges. Among the many health aspects that deserve attention, one of the most important is the health of a woman's teeth and gums over the course of her life.
Although preventing and treating dental disease remains a primary focus throughout life, women do face a number of different situations during various life stages that often require additional attention. Here are 3 such life moments for a woman that may give rise to oral and dental problems.
Adolescence. The changes that occur in their physical bodies as girls enter puberty may make their gums more sensitive to bacterial plaque, a thin biofilm that forms on teeth. This can cause painful swelling, a condition that may become even more acute if they wear braces. To counteract this, it's important for girls in their teens to not neglect daily brushing and flossing to remove excess plaque, and to make regular dental visits at least every six months.
Pregnancy. Each of the estimated 40 million U.S. women who have given birth share a common experience—they've all undergone the hormonal changes that accompany pregnancy. Such changes can adversely affect dental health: The hormonal shifts, and the sugar cravings that often accompany them, increase the risk for dental disease, especially gum infections. As with adolescence, daily oral hygiene and regular dental visits (as well as a healthy diet) are important for staying a step ahead of possible tooth decay or gum disease.
Menopause. Women in menopause or who have passed through it can encounter new oral problems. Persistent dry mouth caused by a lack of adequate saliva flow, for example, can cause irritation and significantly increase the risk of dental disease. Osteoporosis and some medications for its treatment could also interfere with dental care. Besides daily oral hygiene, older women can ease dry mouth symptoms with saliva boosters or drinking more water. They should also work with their physicians to minimize any oral effects from their medications.
Many aspects of dental care remain constant regardless of a woman's season of life. Daily oral hygiene should be a lifetime habit, as well as seeing a dentist at least twice a year. But there are times when a unique stage of life requires something more—and it's always better to be proactive rather than reactive in meeting new challenges to oral health.