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What Do Your Hormones Have To Do With Your Oral Health?

Estrogen and progesterone changes throughout the month — and throughout your life — can make you more prone to dental health concerns

person leaning over sink brushing teeth

In women and people assigned female at birth (AFAB), the hormones estrogen and progesterone play an important role in health.

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They’re responsible for the development of secondary sex characteristics, like breasts. They ebb and flow to regulate your menstrual cycle. And when they wane, you enter perimenopause and, eventually, menopause.

But along the way, those hormones can affect your body in other ways, too. Ones that have seemingly nothing to do with sexual or reproductive health.

For instance, estrogen supports a healthy heart. It also helps keep your bones strong. And it boosts your brain health.

What’s more: Hormones affect your oral health — and they can make you more susceptible to oral health issues, like gum disease (periodontitis) and others.

Why? And what can you do about it? Dentist Karyn Kahn, DDS, shares the connection between your hormones and your oral health.

What is the link between hormones and female oral health?

Hormonal changes affect your oral health in a few different ways. Hormones can also affect how your body responds to toxins that result from plaque buildup.

“Estrogen and progesterone cause increased blood supply to your gums, which can make you more susceptible to swollen or bleeding gums,” Dr. Kahn shares. “When your estrogen levels are highest, you can be at higher risk for periodontal (gum) disease and other conditions.”

Dr. Kahn walks through a few ways that your oral health can be impacted by changes in hormones.

Puberty

Puberty is the stage at which children begin to physically transition to adulthood. That typically happens between the ages of 8 and 13 for women and people AFAB.

During puberty, a rush of female hormones triggers changes. That causes kids to grow taller, begin to bud breasts and have their first period.

Those same hormones can also lead to some changes in a young person’s oral health.

“The surge in production of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone that occurs during puberty can increase the blood flow to the gums,” Dr. Kahn says. “That changes the way gum tissue reacts to bacterial plaque.”

During puberty, hormones can cause your gum tissue to become red, tender and swollen. That may cause a higher likelihood of bleeding when brushing and flossing.

Your period

Throughout your menstrual cycle, your mix of estrogen and progesterone changes.

Progesterone peaks a few days before your period. And it can trigger changes in your mouth. In the day or two before you get your period, you may notice:

  • Bright red gums.
  • Swollen gums.
  • Bleeding gums.
  • Swollen salivary glands (under your tongue, on either side of your lower jaw or just in front of your ears).
  • Canker sores (mouth ulcers).

These symptoms typically clear up once your period starts.

Hormonal contraception

If you take certain oral contraceptives (birth control pills) that contain progesterone, you may be at higher risk for a few conditions related to your mouth.

One is inflamed gums. That’s due to your body’s exaggerated reaction to toxins that are produced from plaque.

But swollen gums aren’t linked to all forms of birth control pills.

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“Newer forms of birth control pills have lower concentrations of the hormones, which lessens the inflammatory response of the gums to dental plaque,” Dr. Kahn explains. “If you’re going to experience gum changes as a result of birth control, you’ll notice the most profound effects in the first few months after starting the pill.”

Additionally, synthetic estrogen found in birth control pills can lead to decreased levels of natural estrogen. Lower levels of natural estrogen are associated with another oral disorder, one affecting the temporomandibular joint (TMJ).

“The temporomandibular joint connects your jaw to the side of your head. Temporomandibular disorders result from problems with the jaw, jaw joint and surrounding muscles that control chewing and moving the jaw,” Dr. Kahn says.

Talk with a dentist if you experience jaw pain or stiffness or notice a popping or clicking in your jaw. Other symptoms of a TMJ disorder include:

  • Facial pain.
  • Difficulty opening or closing your mouth.
  • Earaches.
  • Toothaches.
  • Tinnitus (ringing in your ears).

It’s worth noting, too, that if you take birth control pills, it’s important that your dentist is aware.

“Certain medicines, such as antibiotics, that your dentist might prescribe can lower the effectiveness of oral contraceptives,” Dr. Kahn says.

Talk with your dentist about any medication you’re taking. That will help them plan your course of treatment, particularly if prescribing medicines is a part of your care.

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Pregnancy

Increased levels of progesterone during pregnancy can make you more susceptible to bacterial plaque that causes gingivitis. That tends to happen most often between the second and eighth months of pregnancy.

It’s called pregnancy gingivitis. And it causes your gums to become swollen and bleed more easily. Your dentist might recommend more frequent professional cleanings during your second or third trimester to help reduce the risk of pregnancy gingivitis.

Menopause

Menopause is a natural part of aging, when you stop having menstrual cycles for 12 months. On average, it happens at age 51.

When you reach menopause, your body has stopped producing most of your estrogen. And while that means less estrogen and progesterone to cause the periodontal issues that are common in other stages of your life, the sharp decline in female hormones can come with other oral health challenges.

Numerous oral changes can occur during and after menopause. They can include:

  • Altered taste.
  • A burning sensation in your mouth.
  • Greater sensitivity to hot and cold foods and beverages.
  • Decreased salivary flow, resulting in dry mouth.

“Dry mouth is a common symptom in menopause, and it can fuel periodontal disease,” Dr. Kahn shares. “Saliva helps to moisten and cleanse the mouth by neutralizing acids produced by plaque. So, less saliva can lead to halitosis (bad breath) and plaque buildup.”

The decline in estrogen that occurs with menopause can also put you at greater risk for bone loss. Most people associate osteoporosis with things like hip fractures or loss of height. But it can also lead to oral health problems when it affects your jaw.

“Loss of bone in the jaw can lead to tooth loss,” Dr. Kahn adds. “It’s also associated with receding gums, which exposes more of the tooth surface to potential tooth decay (cavities).”

What can I do to prevent the development of oral health problems?

Your hormones can affect your oral health, but there’s still plenty you can do to keep your gums, teeth and jaw healthy.

Dr. Kahn shares this advice:

  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day with a toothpaste containing fluoride.
  • Floss at least once a day.
  • Visit your dentist twice a year for a professional oral examination and cleaning.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet.
  • Avoid sugary or starchy snacks.
  • Ask your dentist about whether you could consider an antimicrobial mouth rinse.
  • If you have dry mouth, ask your dentist about treatments for this condition, such as artificial saliva.

Your hormones may affect your oral health, but there’s plenty you can do to keep your teeth and gums healthy. Talk with a dentist if you’re concerned about your oral health.

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