Roadmap to Healthy Aging: Dental Health

By Lynn Kiangsoontra, DDS

Prosthodontist and Assistant Clinical Professor, Department of Preventive and Restorative Dental Sciences School of Dentistry, University of California, San Francisco

Are There Oral Health Issues Specific To Women?

Women tend to experience more changes to their gums throughout their life compared with men due to changes in hormone levels. Also, women taking oral contraceptives can sometimes experience inflamed gums because birth control pills mimic the effects of pregnancy.

How Might A Woman’s Age Or Stage In Life Affect Her Oral Health?

The various hormonal changes that a woman undergoes throughout her life can definitely affect her oral health or, more specifically, the health of her gums and how they react to plaque. These changes can arise during puberty, pregnancy, and menopause.

Also, as women age they might be taking more medication to address their medical conditions or illnesses. Xerostomia (dry mouth) can develop when a patient takes multiple medications or receives medical treatment for cancer; and because of the dry oral conditions, these women might be more prone to developing dental cavities.

How Should A Woman’s Oral Hygiene Routine Accommodate Changes Related To Age?

Because a woman’s gums can react differently to plaque during puberty, pregnancy, and menopause, extra care and thoroughness should be given to brushing and flossing.

Beyond Oral Health, What Health Concerns Might Be Diagnosed Through Regular Dental Visits?

Regular dental exams can actually save lives when it comes to oral cancer. Much like other cancers in the body, the key to beating oral cancer is all about early detection. Some oral cancer lesions are painless and can go completely undetected by the patient. If patients come in for annual exams, however, their dentist can examine their oral tissues on a regular basis and detect any suspicious lesions early on, before they have a chance to develop into something more serious or irreversible.

Regular dental exams can also help detect potentially undiagnosed conditions such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (acid reflux). There are times when patients are not aware that they have this condition, and constant erosion from the low acidity can cause severe enamel wear over time and wear away their teeth. When dentists see signs that indicate possible acid reflux, they can inform their patients and have them referred to a physician for appropriate diagnostic tests and treatment.

Can You Describe How Gum Disease Can Be Linked To Other Health Issues Common In Women, Such As Heart Disease, Stroke, And Diabetes?

Gum disease is essentially a bacterial infection of the gums, and this bacteria can easily enter the bloodstream and contribute to other systemic conditions in the body, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and premature birth. For example, people with heart disease who have prosthetic valves or congenital heart defects can be at risk of infection if bacteria from the gums travel into the bloodstream during treatment. In addition, researchers have found that inflammation can contribute to these conditions, and gum disease is essentially inflammation and infection in the oral cavity.

What Are The Key Elements Of Good Oral Health That Women Should Be Aware Of, No Matter What Their Age Or Stage In Life?

Prevention is key when it comes to good oral health. Dental cavities, enamel wear, and gum disease can be avoided completely with good preventive dental care, which involves brushing twice daily with fluoride toothpaste, flossing daily, and seeing a dentist once a year for an exam and a cleaning.

Lynn Kiangsoontra, DDS, is a full-time faculty member at the University of California, San Francisco School of Dentistry, where she teaches both general dentistry and prosthodontics to dental students and treats patients in the Faculty Group Practice. She completed dental school at Rangsit University in Bangkok, Thai­land, and decided to pursue her interest in restorative dentistry by completing a residency in prosthodontics at the University of Minnesota, where she received extensive training in restoring and surgically placing implants as well as rehabilitating patients with complex restorative needs. Her practice focuses on all aspects of restorative dentistry, including fillings, crowns, bridges, den­tures, implant restorations, and helping patients achieve optimal oral health.