Is there a link between my oral health and my overall health?
Australia’s National Oral Health Plan states that, “Oral health is fundamental to overall health, wellbeing and quality of life.”1
Specifically, a growing body of research has linked gum disease to a variety of health problems that affect women. Gum disease is a bacterial infection, elements of disease can enter the bloodstream and may contribute to other health complications:
- Heart disease: People with gum disease may be more at risk for heart disease and have nearly twice the risk of having a fatal heart attack. Heart disease accounts for nearly 30 per cent of deaths worldwide.2
- Stroke: One study found a causal relationship of oral infections as a risk factor for stroke.3
- Diabetes: People with diabetes are more likely to have gum disease, potentially making it more difficult for diabetics to control their blood sugar. Gum disease may also be a risk factor for diabetes, even in otherwise healthy indviduals.4
- Respiratory problems: Bacteria that grow in the oral cavity can travel to the lungs causing respiratory disease such as pneumonia, especially in people with gum disease.5
Because gum disease is usually painless, many women may not even realise they have it until it reaches an advanced state. Your best defence is to brush and floss daily, and see your dentist regularly.
How do my oral health needs change throughout my life?
Women have special oral health requirements during the unique phases in their lives. Changes in female hormone levels during puberty, menstruation, pregnancy and the menopause exaggerate the way gums react to plaque. So at these times, women need to be especially thorough when brushing and flossing every day in order to prevent gum disease.
Other important information you should know:
- Menstruation – Some women find that their gums swell and bleed prior to their periods, while others experience cold sores or mouth ulcers. These symptoms usually go away once your period starts.
- Oral contraceptives – Inflamed gums are one of the most common side effects.
- Pregnancy – Studies show many pregnant women experience pregnancy gingivitis, when dental plaque builds up on the teeth and irritates the gums. Symptoms include red, inflamed and bleeding gums. Prenatal care is especially important.
- Menopause – Oral symptoms experienced during this stage of a woman's life include red or inflamed gums, oral pain and discomfort, burning sensations, altered taste sensations and dry mouth.
Osteoporosis – A number of studies have suggested a link between osteoporosis and bone loss in the jaw. Researchers suggest this may lead to tooth loss because the density of the bone that supports teeth may be decreased. When combined with gum disease, osteoporosis speeds up the process of bone loss around the teeth.
1 National Advisory Committee on Oral Health. (July 2004). Healthy Mouths Healthy Lives. In Australia’s National Oral Health Plan 2004-2013. 5.
2 World Health Organisation. Global Health Risks: Mortality and Burden of Disease Attributable to Selected Major Risks. Geneva: World Health Organisation; 2009.
3 The American Academy of Periodontology, June 5, 2000.
4 The American Academy of Periodontology, January 17, 2001.
5 The American Academy of Periodontology, May 15, 2000.