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Women’s Oral Health: Special Considerations

Women have special oral health needs and considerations that affect the way dental treatments are administered.
“Hormonal effects on the oral cavity during various phases of a woman’s life are more pronounced than originally thought,” said Dr. Eve Brown a dentist in Cary, N.C.. “Puberty, menstrual cycles, pregnancy, menopause and use of contraceptive medications are all influences that affect oral health in females.” Take the onset of puberty for instance. “Studies show that increased female hormone levels correlate with higher levels of gingivitis, or inflammation of soft tissues in the mouth,” said Dr. Brown, “Some types of bacteria also proliferate when these hormone levels are elevated. These events call for a vigorous program of good oral hygiene.”
When menstrual cycles begin, some women experience swelling of oral soft tissues. Even though infrequent, the incidence of oral herpes infection sometimes increases, along with ulcers in the mouth, swollen salivary glands and increased risk of bleeding following oral surgery. “Again, a consistent oral hygiene program and regular dental check-ups are important.”
Even though pregnancy doesn’t contribute directly to tooth decay as was once thought, an increase in appetite and a craving for unusual foods, especially those with high sugar content, can lead to more cavities. “Nausea associated with morning sickness can also aggravate acid erosion of the teeth, so we recommend that women rinse their mouths with water after vomiting occurs,” said Dr. Brown.
“Inflammation of the gums and other soft tissues in the mouth occurs in 60-75% of all pregnant women as well as a tendency toward increased bleeding, larger pockets between teeth and increased saliva production,” adds Dr. Brown. Sometimes small “pregnancy tumors” can develop in the mouth when good oral hygiene isn’t practiced . “While these symptoms almost always disappear after childbirth, it’s important that pregnant women consult their dentist if they occur during gestation.”
“Gum disease during pregnancy may be a risk factor for low birth-weight babies,” says Dr. Brown, “so we urge pregnant mothers to have regular examinations to prevent or control the problem.”During pregnancy, female patients are urged to pay special attention to their oral health and good general health practices, including:
• Nutrition: A quality diet with sufficient levels of needed nutrients such as vitamins A,C and D; protein; calcium; folic acid; and phosphorus. Snacks containing starch and high sugar levels should be avoided and snacking minimized.
• Plaque control: Regular brushing and flossing, as well as regular dental treatments to plaque build-up are advised.
• Prenatal fluoride: Even though the use of fluoride supplements in pregnant women does not benefit their offspring, it is considered safe for both the mother and the fetus.
• Elective dental treatment: Should be timed to occur during the second trimester and first half of the third trimester. Extensive reconstruction procedures and major surgery should be postponed until after delivery.
• Emergency dental treatment: Dental emergencies should be dealt with as they arise. Consultation between the patient’s dentist and obstetrician should guide the use of pain reduction medicines and general anesthesia.
• Dental radiographs: The risk of radiation exposure from dental X-rays to the fetus is extremely low. Dentists take special precautions during pregnancy to minimize both the use of radiography and exposure levels.
•    Medications: Even though most commonly used drugs used in dental practice are relatively safe for pregnant women, dentists can advise patients when there are exceptions and prescribe alternative medications when needed.
“I cannot emphasize enough the need for women who are passing through these various stages of their lives – puberty, menstrual cycles, pregnancy – to pay careful attention to their oral health,” says Dr. Brown. “During these times, dentists are a vital medical and educational resource to help prevent and, when needed, manage problems when they occur.”
Additional information on oral care for women can be found by visiting or
The N.C. Dental Society represents 3,600 dentists throughout North Carolina. The NCDS encourages improvement of the oral health of the public, promotes the art and science of dentistry, sustains high standards of professional competence and practice, and represents the interests of the members of the dental profession and the public which it serves.