Our awareness towards health is reflected in the many health related books and magazines available in the stores. Most of these cover women’s health concerns and specify the gender differences affecting both in health and disease. Women in general are at a much higher risk for developing certain diseases such as osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, and cerebrovascular disease. Anorexia nervosa, and other eating disorders, are also associated with women. All of these diseases have an impact on the oral cavity.
The messages given by the media and the fashion industry have made an impression on many women that to be ultra thin is the way to look, no matter what the cost. Anorexia and bulimia are typically characterized by times of extreme starvation (anorexia) followed by eating binges and forced vomiting (bulimia). Eating disorders cause major damage to the teeth including eroding them, causing sensitivity. With frequent regurgitation, the teeth are bathed with hydrochloric acid. This acid is caught in the projections of the tongue and is constantly in contact with the teeth. Due to the acid erosion, the teeth appear “dished out”. Certain eating disorders, due to self-induced vomiting, may damage the gum tissue and the pharynx. The roof of the mouth (soft palate) is often injured by objects used to induce vomiting.
Constant dieting or “crash dieting” also may damage teeth. Most of the so-called crash diets often eliminate essential foods, either by starvation or by diet pills to curb hunger. These factors can result in deficiencies of vital vitamins and minerals, leaving weak teeth, bleeding, inflamed gums and osteoporosis of the mouth. If you are dieting, it is essential to take multivitamin/mineral supplements, including 30 mg of Co-enzyme Q 10, brush and floss twice a day and drink at least 8 glasses of water a day.
Birth control pills cause gum inflammation and dry mouth because they contain estrogen and progesterone hormones. Women that are pregnant and those taking birth control pills have the same manifestations in their mouth. Gum inflammation and bleeding resulting in gum disease are often the result of oral contraceptives. It’s also very important to note that while on birth control pills, antibiotics are rendered ineffective. Bone infection after extraction of teeth (dry socket) has also been shown to increase with women on oral contraceptives.
During pregnancy 50% to 75% of expectant mothers get gum disease. This is mostly due to the hormonal changes. Another gum condition that is common during pregnancy is known as “pregnancy tumor”. These tumor like growths occur in about 10% of pregnant women, and goes away after the pregnancy. If no gum problems are present before pregnancy, and good oral hygiene is practiced, the risk factor is low. However, if regular dental visits are not a priority and good oral hygiene is not practiced, then the chances increase for dental problems during pregnancy. Major dental treatment is usually not given during the first and last trimester, which are crucial growth periods for the embryo.
During middle age TMJ or temporomandibular joint pain is a common complaint. Aches arising from the jaw joint (TMJ) may radiate and affect the face, head, neck, shoulders, and back. Problems that are characteristic of TMJ include headaches, eye aches and pressure, noises in the ear such as ringing (tinnitus), clicking, and popping noises, lockjaw, sinus pain, toothaches, and dizziness. The symptoms usually manifest at middle age largely because the signs were ignored, or mis-diagnosed during prior years. If not treated, arthritis of the jaw joint results, accompanied by severe pain.
The number one killer of older women from the age of 65 and above is heart disease. At the onset of menopause, women’s risk of heart disease increases due to the decrease of estrogen. Studies now indicate that the risk of heart disease is also increased with the presence of gum disease. It is very important with the onset of menopause, that regular dental check ups are maintained, along with good oral hygiene. Good oral hygiene applies whether all the teeth are present or if one wears dentures. Plaque still accumulates on the gums and tongue, and cleaning these areas daily is a must.
In recent years, there has been an increase of breast cancer among women. If chemotherapy and radiation therapy is administered, then there will be problems in the mouth. Dry mouth, increase of cavities, and gum damage are the result of these types of treatments for cancer. Controlling plaque in the mouth, with proper professional cleanings and check ups, along with good home care are crucial. Fluoride gel applied to the teeth once daily, while receiving radiation therapy will help fight cavities.
No matter the age, awareness of health issues and daily practice towards prevention is a sure way towards a healthy, happy life, with a beautiful smile.