How hormones affect dental health and what you can do to about it
Mood swings, pain, bloating, hot flashes and now dental health problems – is there no end to how hormones affect our general well-being? It seems not. From puberty to beyond the menopause we have to live with our fluctuating hormones, but we can take steps to counteract their effects on our mouths if we know what changes they trigger.
Throughout most of our lives hormones play a significant part in all life’s activities, including growth, metabolism and reproduction. But it is during puberty, when hormonal fluctuations begin in earnest for most of us that we become aware of their effects, although we may not have attributed changes in dental health to them. From dry mouth to swollen gums and increased bacteria levels hormones may play a greater part in oral health than we think.
The onset of puberty brings about an increase in sex hormones (estrogen and progesterone). There are a number of theories about how the levels of these hormones affect oral health, but some are that:
High progesterone levels may stimulate the growth of unhealthy bacteria or suppress immune function. High levels may also impede collagen production – an essential ingredient in tissue repair.
High estrogen levels may be responsible for loss of minerals, such as folate, that maintain healthy tissues. It may also contribute to an increase in metabolism. Decreasing estrogen levels may affect bones, leading to jaw problems, such as temperomandibular joint function (TMJ or TMD), or even osteoporosis.
Problems at this stage may manifest themselves with gum inflammation (gingivitis) which could be the start of periodontal disease and clicking jaw joints or headaches. Gingivitis is the first stage of periodontal disease, caused by acid producing bacteria which erode teeth and gums.
Those fluctuating hormones may, again, lead to gingivitis and some women may be prone to oral herpes or mouth ulcers during this time. An increase in metabolism, while not directly responsible for causing dental health issues, could be a contributory factor in cavities and gum problems simply because sugar cravings encourage us to eat more of the wrong things which are bad for our teeth.
Increased progesterone during pregnancy may suppress immune function permitting harmful bacteria to thrive, which leads to plaque build-up and gingivitis.
As estrogen levels drop-off ulcers may be a side-effect, as well as jaw shrinkage and osteoporosis. Dry mouth may also become a problem, and the decrease in saliva means that unhealthy bacteria isn’t washed away, which could lead to an increase in cavities and gum problems.
So what can you do about it?
Incorporate healthy changes into your normal routine. Make them a part of your lifestyle so they won’t not seem such a chore – it’ll pay dividends in the long-run.
Maintaining good oral hygiene throughout life is particularly important – brushing and flossing twice a day helps to remove sticky deposits on your teeth so harmful bacteria can’t stick, as well as getting rid of trapped food particles between the teeth that are a breeding ground for bacteria. Make a good habit of spending a few minutes each morning and night making your mouth bacteria-unfriendly.
A nutrient-rich diet containing calcium and vitamin D for strong teeth and healthy bones will go a long way in giving your body the building blocks to remain healthy. Milk, cheese and yoghurts will provide calcium, whereas oily fish such as salmon and swordfish, mushrooms and eggs are high in vitamin D. Chuck a few anchovies on a pizza; make delicious smoothies or whip up an omelet to get your daily calcium and vitamin D – and remember to drink plenty of water – good for cell repair, and to wash unhealthy bacteria away.
Visit a dentist regularly so any problems can be dealt with before they become bigger ones. Finding the cost of dental care expensive? Then look to alternatives like getting your dental care on holiday. For example Mexican dental care is generally around 70% cheaper than you’d find at home and in Thailand dental fillings are as much as 90% less. Many dentists overseas will also give you a free initial consultation - so you’ve nothing to lose.
You’re much more likely to stick to new regimes if you incorporate them into your lifestyle – and it’s the little changes that add up to a lot. Fluctuating hormones may be beyond your control, but counteracting the effects of them on your dental health are within your power.