Oral health for women

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There's more to it than brushing and flossing

By Donny Gill


October is National Dental Hygiene Month. While dental hygiene is a concern for both men and women, special circumstances should be brought to the attention of women of all ages. First, let’s define dental hygiene and the way to do it properly. Dental hygiene is the caring for and cleaning of the teeth, gums, tongue and other tissues of the mouth. Proper dental care includes a healthy low-sugar diet, brushing for two to three minutes twice a day, flossing daily and seeing a dentist for regular checkups and cleanings. A lack of proper hygiene can lead to gum disease. Gum disease is a common cause of tooth loss in adults and is indicated by red, irritated gums that are tender to the touch and bleed easily. Research shows that gum disease can lead to an increased chance of heart disease because bacteria can enter the bloodstream and cause damage to the heart. Cavities are another sign of poor hygiene. Cavities can be painful and expensive to repair. In addition to physical pain involved in poor dental hygiene, it also can cause depression and stress by affecting your physical appearance and self image. Proper care and hygiene typically result in good oral health, however, the health of your teeth also can be an indicator of your overall health. Serious diseases such as diabetes and HIV often show first signs in the mouth. Now, let’s look at some issues that are specific to women. Changes in hormone levels during puberty, monthly periods and menopause cause changes in a woman’s mouth. These changes can cause gingivitis (gum disease) during puberty, dry mouth, increased risk for more severe gum disease and bone weakness around menopause. A healthy diet, increased calcium intake, extra care and following the advice of your dentist should help minimize the problems during these times. Women who are pregnant also have a special list of concerns for their oral health. A woman who is pregnant should try to have a complete oral exam prior to or very early in her pregnancy. Any dental work that is needed should be taken care of between the fourth and sixth months of the pregnancy. Treatments are the most dangerous during the first three months, and during the last three the dentist chair can be very uncomfortable. Some women get pregnancy gingivitis, which increases their chances of getting more serious gum disease problems. Pregnancy gingivitis can be the result of poor nutrition, poor hygiene or both. While it may be uncomfortable, it is important for women who are pregnant to not stop brushing or flossing. Statistics show pregnant women with gum disease are more likely to have premature and low-birth weight babies. Again, all this can be prevented by good nutrition, increased calcium intake, proper hygiene and following your dentist’s directions. This saying is old but it still rings true: A little prevention goes a long way. Our teeth often are taken for granted, but take a moment and think of all that they do for us. They greet others with our smiles, they help us speak and they help us eat among other things. If the cost of oral health maintenance has you concerned, the Elizabethtown Community College Dental Hygiene Clinic performs cleanings and provide X-rays for a lower cost than most dentistry practices. The cost for adults 18 and up is $45 and children are $35. Starting in February they will begin seeing patients from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. There is a waiting list, but to get on the list or to learn more, call (270) 706-8568. Donny Gill is a health educator with the Hardin County Health Center. He can be reached at donny.gill@ky.gov.