May is Women’s Health Month

According to a new survey by Delta Dental of Illinois, 1 in 5 women in Illinois have been told they have gum disease1, which has been linked to several health problems affecting women. May is Women’s Health Month, and Delta Dental of Illinois wants to educate women about the unique oral health needs they face.

“Oral and overall health are closely related. In fact, several health problems for which women are at high risk have been connected to gum disease,” said Dr. Sheila Strock, vice president, dental services and science officer at Delta Dental of Illinois. “Gum disease is a bacterial infection, which can enter the bloodstream and potentially cause health complications.” 

Heart disease and stroke have connections to gum disease – and both take the lives of many women every year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death for women2, and strokes kill twice as many women as breast cancer. 3

Hormonal Changes & Oral Health

Women are also more susceptible to developing gum disease because of hormonal changes during different life phases, such as puberty, menstruation cycles, pregnancy and menopause. Hormones alter the body’s reaction to plaque buildup and affect blood supply to gum tissue, increasing the risk for gum disease and other oral health problems.

During menstruation, some women may experience swollen or bleeding gums, cold sores or canker sores. Menopause may affect women’s oral health by causing red or inflamed gums, oral pain and discomfort, burning sensations, altered taste and dry mouth.

A condition called “pregnancy gingivitis” affects most pregnant women and generally begins to surface as early as the second month of pregnancy. If untreated, gingivitis can lead to a serious form of gum disease. Research suggests a possible link between gum disease and preterm, low-birth-weight babies.

“Women who are experiencing hormonal changes need to pay close attention to their oral health to help prevent gum disease,” said Dr. Strock. “A dentist can help by providing an assessment and may recommend special cleanings and treatments to improve problems and ease discomfort.”

Gum Disease Prevention

Delta Dental of Illinois offers the following tips to help women improve their oral health and help prevent gum disease:

  • Brush your teeth twice daily with fluoride toothpaste and floss daily. The Delta Dental of Illinois survey found that more than 1 of 3 (35 percent) Illinois women only brush their teeth once a day or less.
  • Visit your dentist regularly for an exam and cleaning. More than 1 of 3 (34 percent) Illinois women visit the dentist less than once a year.1
  • If you’re pregnant, schedule a checkup with your dentist during the first trimester. Four of 10 Illinois women neglected to visit a dentist while pregnant.1
  • Eat a well-balanced diet and limit sugary foods.
  • If you smoke, seek out resources to help you quit.

“If ignored, gum disease can become serious as is evident by its connection to overall health issues,” said Strock. “Although women may be more susceptible at certain times, the good news is gum disease is preventable. Maintaining good oral health habits will help keep your smile healthy and may help eliminate related health problems.”

1 Kelton, a leading global insights firm, conducted the 2018 Delta Dental of Illinois Adult Oral Health & Well-Being Survey. Interviews were conducted statewide via email with 305 Illinois adults ages 18+. For results based on the total sample of Illinois adults, the margin of error is +/- 5.6% at a 95 percent confidence level.
2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Women and Heart Disease Fact Sheet, 2017.
3 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Women and Stroke Fact Sheet, 2017.

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