Gum disease is a serious health condition affecting over half of the United States' population, but some groups are more vulnerable than others. Women, in particular, have been shown to have an increased chance of gum disease, and a little untreated gingivitis can eventually lead to heart disease, stroke and diabetes. If you are a woman looking to protect yourself from these dangers, it is important to understand both how your natural hormones can put you at risk and how you can keep your gums healthy.
Why are Women Affected?
The reproductive hormones produced by women, estrogen and progesterone, impact your body in ways you might never expect. Higher levels of these hormones, for example, have been linked to increased blood flow, including to your gums. This causes inflammation, making your gums more susceptible to soreness, cuts and abscesses. Bacteria that enter your gums through those cuts can then travel through the rest of your gum tissue, causing a persistent infection there or moving into your bloodstream. Progesterone and estrogen are also thought to suppress your immune system's response to these harmful invaders. Because of these effects, your risk for gum disease fluctuates throughout each month as well as across your entire lifespan, changing as hormone levels within your body rise and fall along life's rhythms.
When are Women Affected?
The increased risk of gum disease in women begins at puberty, when reproductive hormones are first produced on a notable scale. It is not uncommon, for teenage girls to experience sore and irritated gums, and it is vital for parents to instill healthy dental habits before this stage. Eventually, as the body normalizes into reproductive stability, the gums return to a less tender state. Some women, however, still experience menstrual gingivitis every month prior to their period. This condition manifests like regular gingivitis through swollen, red gums, but it typically subsides within a few days.
Pregnancy and menopause, the other major hormonal shifts in a woman's life, can also present problems. During pregnancy, the body is flooded with hormones, possibly exacerbating all of the symptoms described previously. Menopause, on the other hand, can lead to a dearth of those same hormones and cause dry mouth, which creates a more welcoming environment for bacteria.
How Can Women Combat Gum Disease?
The path to good dental health is the same for women as it is for men: regular, thorough flossing and brushing. But recognizing your increased risk for gum disease can help you stay proactive and spot early signs of trouble sooner. If you notice blood in the sink or feel tender around your gums, don't hesitate to have your mouth examined by a skilled periodontist. Acting quickly can prevent permanent tissue damage and halt infections before they become too deeply entrenched, potentially adding years to your life in the process.