In the U.S. dental insurance is scarce. About 49% of American adults ages 18-64 with private health insurance do not have dental care coverage, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That makes proper dental hygiene, and an understanding of related oral health risks, more important than ever.
It’s uncommon knowledge, but there are proven gender-related differences in the usage of healthcare services overall and how women perceive health vs. men. Along with behavioral differences and the way patients perceive dental care are differences in genetics, physiology, and anatomy that affect oral health between sexes. So, who comes out on top? When it comes to gender differences, women tend to have better oral health and demonstrate better oral health behaviors than men.
However, for women, changes in hormone levels can adversely affect oral health. Whether it’s menstruation, ovulation, menopause or pregnancy, women feel the effects in their dental wellness. Women also report more financial and access barriers to oral healthcare.
Let’s take a closer look at some uncommon knowledge about women’s oral health.
Fast Facts: Hormonal & Lifestyle Effects on Oral Health
It is no secret that hormones can influence how a woman feels, which makes the link between menstruation, birth control, and menopause to oral health especially interesting. For example, during ovulation and the days leading up to menstruation, boosts in progesterone can make gums swell and bleed. Birth control devices and pills can have similar effects on progesterone and estrogen levels leading to the same result.
Hormonal fluctuations throughout a woman’s life including menopause can also affect oral health, causing changes in gums. For women in the pre- and post-menopause transition, they can experience a burning feeling in the mouth or a dry mouth—which can increase the risk of dental caries, infections, sore gums, and other oral problems. The risk of osteoporosis is also greater as women’s estrogen levels decline after menopause. With this diagnosis, unfortunately, gum disease and subsequent tooth loss can also occur.
Another interesting and intertwined relationship is between oral health and cervical Human Papillomavirus Infections (HPV). Studies have determined that there is a relationship between the two in women. In the last 20 years, the rate of oral cancers associated with Human Papillomavirus Infections (HPV) has doubled. Oral HPV infections were more prevalent in women who had an HPV infection in the cervix than those who did not have a cervical infection. Additional research cited that “among women with an HPV-related cancer in one site, there was an increased risk of secondary cancer in the other site.” Cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, and other forms of tobacco also cause gum disease, tooth decay, and other oral health problems like cancer. In addition, chronic disease and comorbidities take a leading role in affecting oral health.
With or without dental insurance, hygiene and lifestyle behaviors play a large role in oral health. It’s great to see that studies have shown that women are more likely to visit the dentist regularly and adhere to good oral hygiene habits, such as brushing and flossing daily; however, it should be cautioned that women have a greater likelihood of developing cavities. Truth be told, tooth decay (caries or cavities) is the most common disease in the world and approximately half (50%) of U.S. population suffers from periodontal (gum) disease.
How To Maintain a Healthy Smile
The CDC recommends the following dental hygiene tips for a happy, healthy smile:
- Drink fluoridated water and brush with fluoride toothpaste.
- Brush teeth thoroughly twice a day and floss daily between the teeth to remove dental plaque.
- Visit your dentist at least once a year, even if you have no natural teeth or have dentures.
- Do not use any tobacco products. If you smoke, quit.
- Limit alcoholic drinks.
- If you have diabetes, work to maintain control of the disease. This will decrease the risk for other complications, including gum disease. Treating gum disease may help lower your blood sugar level.
- If your medication causes dry mouth, ask your doctor for a different medication that may not cause this condition. If dry mouth cannot be avoided, drink plenty of water, chew sugarless gum, and avoid tobacco products and alcohol.
- When acting as a caregiver, help older individuals brush and floss their teeth if they are not able to perform these activities independently.
The main takeaway: it’s never too late to prioritize oral health. It’s important for women to stay on top of their overall health to ensure good oral health. Understanding gender differences can help individuals take even better care of teeth and gums, but daily healthy habits like brushing and flossing make for the best routine.
For those with insurance, find a dental home that delivers high-quality care and schedule regular check-ups. And for all, practice proper hygiene to help prevent costly corrective dental treatments later-on.
By Dr. LaTedra Collins, DDS, Senior Associate Dentist at Benevis