While dental professionals consider gum disease to be an epidemic among adults in general, the struggle between gum disease and women’s health is particularly noteworthy because of the various unique ways periodontal disease can impact female health.
Hormones & gum disease
Increases in hormones due to pregnancy or the use of oral contraceptives can make women more sensitive to plaque and bacteria in the mouth and accelerate the progression of gum disease. Even a standard menstrual cycle or the onset of puberty – when there are increased levels of progesterone and estrogen in the body – can cause a heightened response to bacteria that can impact your oral health if left untreated. Pregnant women with gum disease run the risk of passing along the burden to their children, with preterm, low weight babies and even stillbirth linked to untreated cases.
Ties to cancers and other life-threatening illnesses
Continuing into middle age, issues pertaining to gum disease and women’s health can persist. A study of over 90,000 women has suggested that women – especially those who are post-menopausal– who have gum disease are at up to three times higher risk for breast cancer than their counterparts without gum disease. That risk was amplified even more if those women had been or were currently smokers.  Periodontal disease is an inflammatory disease, and these findings are consistent with the role chronic inflammation plays in increasing breast cancer risk. The oral microbiome (the genetic material of bacterial, fungi and viruses) contributing to periodontal disease has been found in breast tumors.
In addition to the threat of breast cancer, untreated gum disease has been linked to other types of cancer such as lung and esophagus as well as melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer. The link between heart disease and gum disease is well known regardless of gender, and women aren’t more likely than men to have cardiovascular disease. However women with periodontal disease have a 12% higher risk of premature death from any cause!
Proactively addressing gum disease
We know that moderate to severe gum disease can have far-reaching implications on overall health of those who don’t get treated. But realizing that women face even more challenges related to gum disease and overall health due to their body’s natural hormonal responses makes it that much more important for women to take stock of their oral health.
In addition to diligent brushing and flossing, dental checkups every six months can help curb the dangers that come along with women and gum disease. Ask your doctor for a periodontal probe if you’re concerned about gum disease, or have noticed symptoms like bleeding when brushing, persistent bad breath or sensitive gums.
When it comes to women and gum disease, more research needs to be done to understand exactly why and how prevalent the associations between the disease and other illnesses like breast cancer are. What’s critical is that women realize that from the time of puberty well into their golden years, successfully treating gum disease may reduce their chances of serious health concerns.