Since 1991, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health (OWH) has dedicated its mission to improving the overall well-being of women and raising awareness of important health issues.1 From May 10 to 16, 2015, the OWH is sponsoring National Women's Health Week (NWHW), which presents the perfect opportunity to focus on female oral health. The impact of oral health stretches beyond what's happening in the mouth. The strength and vigor of a woman's gums and teeth can affect other disease in her body. Being aware of these conditions is the first step to combating them:
Osteoporosis is a major oral health concern, especially for women over the age of 65. The alveolar process is the part of the jaw bone responsible for securing the teeth, and bone diseases can cause it to weaken and lose density. In fact, women with osteoporosis are three times more likely to experience tooth loss than those without this bone disease.2 Alveolar process issues can also create problems with the way dentures fit and the potential effectiveness of oral surgery.
A visit to the dentist can determine if a patient has osteoporosis. Dentists regularly do X-ray screenings on individuals, which can help to see if a bone disease is affecting the alveolar process. A dental visit might provide more insight than a regular doctor visit because people only receive X-rays from their physicians when there's suspicion of a bone problem. At the dentist, on the other hand, X-rays are done on a regular basis to see if the patient has any cavities or other bone-related oral health issues. Therefore, women may have a likelier chance of catching osteoporosis at the dentist's office if there are no symptoms of the bone disease yet.
Research has linked several illnesses that affect women to gum disease, and heart disease is a major one. Unfortunately, many people falsely believe that heart disease is only a problem for males, which is far from the truth. In fact, in 2009, heart disease contributed to one in every four female deaths, making it the leading cause of death in women.3 Other health problems related to gum disease include strokes, respiratory issues, diabetes and pregnancy outcomes.4 One condition in the mouth can have a significant toll on the entire body because gum disease is a bacterial infection. This bacteria can easily enter the bloodstream, causing other major health problems.
"A condition in the mouth can have a significant toll on the entire body."
The female progression toward puberty is one cause of the appearance of gum disease in women. As the female body matures, it releases hormones such as estrogen and progesterone.5 The release of these chemicals promotes greater blood circulation in the gums, often causing a more significant reaction to irritating elements such as food particles and plaque. This heightened sensitivity can cause the gums to become swollen and tender, which is a symptom of gingivitis, one of the early signs of gum disease.
Fortunately, the symptoms of gum disease can be reversed if they are caught early on. Bleeding, tenderness or sores on the inside of the mouth noticed when brushing or flossing may be a sign of gingivitis. To prevent the built-up plaque from releasing toxins during this stage of gum disease, women must practice efficient brushing and flossing routines to remove it.6
By staying up to date on dental appointments and being aware of the diseases that commonly affect their gender, women can have a higher chance of catching an oral health condition before it leads to other problems.
1. "May 10–16, 2015 is National Women's Health Week," by Maria Perno Goldie, RDH, MS, Dentistry IQ, April 23, 2015. http://www.dentistryiq.com/articles/2015/04/may-10-16-2015-is-national-women-s-health-week.html
2. "Oral Health and Bone Disease," National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin diseases, National Institute of Health, January 2012. http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Bone/Bone_Health/Oral_Health/default.asp
3. "National Vital Statistics Report, Vol. 60, No. 3.," by Kenneth D. Kochanek, M.A., et. al., Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dec. 29, 2011. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr60/nvsr60_03.pdf
4. "Women's Oral Health and Overall Health," Colgate. http://www.colgate.com/app/CP/US/EN/OC/Information/Articles/Oral-and-Dental-Health-at-Any-Age/Adults/Womens-Health/article/Women's-Oral-Health-and-Overall-Health.cvsp
5. "Gum Disease and Women," American Academy of Periodontology. http://www.perio.org/consumer/women.htm
6. "What are the Stages of Gum Disease?" Colgate. http://www.colgate.com/app/CP/US/EN/OC/Information/Articles/Oral-and-Dental-Health-Basics/Common-Concerns/Gum-Disease/article/What-are-the-Stages-of-Gum-Disease.cvsp