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Women's Dental Health - Part 3: The Reproductive Years


The reproductive years mark a distinctive period in a women’s life. Many oral changes occur during this time that women should be aware of. These changes include: acid erosion, gum inflammation, dry mouth, excessive salivary flow and gum disease.

Gum inflammation is the most common oral change experienced by women around their menstrual cycle. It is most often experienced days before the cycle begins and usually resolves at the start of menstruation. Additional changes may be experienced during pregnancy. In the early months of pregnancy, morning sickness is common. The stomach acids that end up in the oral cavity can cause erosion of the teeth by softening the tooth surface and making teeth susceptible to cavitations. It is recommended that women rinse their mouth thoroughly after vomiting and refrain from tooth brushing for 20 to 30 minutes.

Oral changes during pregnancy vary dramatically between women with some experiencing totally opposite symptoms. Some women complain of dry mouth. While others experience excessive salivation. The causes of these symptoms are unclear. However, many think hormonal changes are to blame. Prolonged dry mouth can make you more susceptible to tooth decay and should be taken seriously. This can be addressed by taking frequent sips of water throughout the day and using salivary stimulants like sugar-free gum when necessary. To reduce excessive salivary flow, try reducing the incidence of the nausea, vomiting and heartburn which may be triggering the problem.

The most detrimental change that may occur during pregnancy is gum disease. This has been directly linked to babies born pre-term with low birth weight. These children are in turn more susceptible to disease and infection. Therefore, proper oral hygiene and plaque control is imperative during pregnancy. Regular dental cleanings are also recommended. Although there are no contraindications to any emergency dental treatment, procedures should be postponed until the second or early third trimester whenever possible.

A frequent concern of most pregnant women undergoing dental treatment is the use of x-rays. X-rays are not contraindicated due to the low radiation exposure. Additionally, digital x-rays use one-third less radiation than traditional x-rays and should be used whenever available. Of course, necessary precautions should always be followed including use of a lead apron and a thyroid shield to protect the patient.

A greater concern is the use of medications during pregnancy. Medications taken orally can pass to the fetus or through breast milk and should be used with extreme caution and only under the supervision of the obstetrician.

New moms should exercise caution when feeding their babies to prevent early childhood tooth decay. This can be prevented by reducing the amount of sugar given to children, especially before bedtime. This includes milk and fruity drinks. These sugars can build up in the mouth creating an environment where bacteria thrive causing rampant tooth decay.

As children and parents age, the mother’s ability to reproduce diminishes. Following the reproductive years, there is a 5-10 year period where hormone patterns change related to menopause. These changes and their affects on the oral environment will be discussed further in Part 4- Oral Changes in the Aging Population.