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Dental Health

Hormone changes during puberty, menstruation, pregnancy and menopause can affect the health of your teeth and gums. Learn what you can do to keep your mouth healthy throughout your life.
Mouth health

Why take care of your teeth

Taking care of your mouth is an important part of maintaining your overall health. Healthy teeth and gums prevent disease, keep your breath fresh and help you feel good about yourself.

Good dental health habits throughout your life can prevent the development of cavities and gum disease. Cavities, gum inflammation and gum disease lead to pain and tooth loss. These dental problems also increase your risk of more serious diseases, like oral cancer and diabetes.

  • Cavities, or tooth decay, cause small holes in your teeth.
  • Inflammation of the gums (gingivitis) makes the skin around your teeth puffy.
  • Gum disease (periodontitis) causes your gums to recede and weakens the bones supporting your teeth.

Keep your mouth healthy

Brushing your teeth is one of the easiest ways you can maintain healthy teeth and gums. Brushing removes the plaque that builds up on your teeth and gums that causes tooth decay and gum disease.


Tips for brushing your teeth

  • brush for 2 minutes using a soft toothbrush
  • use fluoride toothpaste
  • get a new toothbrush every 3 months
  • brush your teeth after breakfast and before going to bed
  • to prevent spreading bacteria don't share youtoothbrush

Learn more tips on tips for brushing from the BC Dental Association and on basic dental care from Healthlink BC.

Flossing between your teeth every day removes the bits of food and plaque that builds up between your teeth that your toothbrush can’t get at . If left on your teeth, plaque hardens into tartar. Only a dentist with special tools can remove tartar from your teeth. Plaque and tartar cause tooth decay and gum disease.


Tips on how to floss your teeth

  • foss once a day
  • foss between all your teeth and behind your back teeth
  • foss gently, bleeding will stop after a week or two once you start flossing regularly
  • ty different flossing options such as floss holders, floss sticks, dental tape or water flossers
Learn more about how to floss your teeth from the
British Columbia Dental Association.
Regular check ups by a dentist are an important part of maintaining a healthy mouth. Your dentist professionally cleans your teeth and can check for early signs of tooth decay and gum disease. Catching problems with your teeth and gums means you can be treated faster, leading to better health outcomes.


How often should I see my dentist?

The BC Dental Association recommends you visit your dentist at least once per year. Your dentist may recommend you get check-ups and cleaning more often based on your dental or other health issues.


Anxiety & dental care

It is normal to feel anxious or nervous about visiting your dentist. Tips to make your next dental visit better:
  • Tell your dentist you are nervous and ask how you can work together to reduce your anxiety.
  • Bring a portable music device (iPod, cell phone) and headphones to listen to music during your visit.
  • Book your dental appointment at a time when you won’t be rushed to meet other demands. 

It’s hard to stop smoking but there is good evidence to suggest you reduce your risk of developing gum disease if you get help to stop smoking or chewing tobacco.

Smoking or chewing tobacco can increase your risk for oral cancer and gum disease. Damaged gum tissues and exposed teeth roots cause bad breath and stain your teeth.

It can take many tries to stop smoking, but your teeth and gums will benefit and your overall health will improve.

Find a program in your area to help you quit smoking

  • BC smoking cessation program - helps people stop smoking or using other tobacco products by assisting with the cost of nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products or smoking cessation prescription drugs. The program is open to eligible BC residents who wish to stop smoking or using other tobacco products - sign up at your local pharmacy!
  • Quit Now

Eating a well-balanced diet keeps your teeth and gums healthy and promotes your overall well-being. Foods and drinks high in refined sugars and carbohydrates like soft drinks, fruit juices, hard candy, doughnuts and other processed foods increase your risk of tooth decay, broken, cracked or chipped teeth, and bad breath.


Drinks like coffee, tea, wine and fruits such as blueberries and cherries can stain your teeth.


Tips on how to eat well for good dental health

  • choose low-sugar snacks like fruits and vegetables
  • limit your intake of sugary drinks like pop
  • avoid hard, sticky and chewy foods like candy, popcorn or ice
  • ask your dentist for ideas on making good food and drink choices to support healthy teeth and gums
Learn more about nutrition and your dental health


Insurance & dental care In Canada

In Canada, dental care is not included in the Canada Health Act. That means it is not covered by your provincial health plan and is provided on a private pay (fee-for-service) basis. About 35 out of 100 Canadians have no dental insurance and have to pay for dental care out-of-pocket. Dental treatment can be costly but there are individual providers and some clinics which may offer services at reduced cost.

Reduced cost dental care services in BC

Tooth & gum disease

Plaque is a sticky, clear substance that forms on your teeth. If plaque isn’t removed by brushing and flossing your teeth, it can cause tooth decay and gum disease. 

Dental health problems can increase your risk for:
  • oral cancer (cancer of the mouth)
  • diabetes   
  • respiratory disease
  • osteoporosis (weak bones) of the mouth
  • Alzheimer’s disease.         
There is no strong evidence that gum disease increases the risk of heart disease or stroke, although previous studies suggested a possible link.  

Further research is needed to confirm the links between tooth and gum disease to other serious health conditions. Talk with your dentist about the health of your mouth and your risk for other diseases.

The female sex hormones estrogen and progesterone affect women’s entire bodies, including teeth and gums. Your risk for inflamed gums (gingivitis) and gum disease (periodontitis) increases as the level of hormones change during your reproductive cycle each month and at different stages of your life, such as during:


  • puberty (when you start having your period)
  • menstruation (during your period)
  • pregnancy
  • menopause (when you stop having your period).
Research suggests gum tissue responds to higher levels of estrogen and progesterone by dilating blood vessels, and moving fluid and white blood cells (immune system cells protecting us from disease) out of the blood vessels in our mouth. At the same time, higher levels of progesterone act as nutrients (food) for bacteria and increase the growth of bacteria in our mouths.
Taking birth control pills (oral contraceptives) increases your risk for gum disease. Oral contraceptives mimic pregnancy-like conditions in your body, including the hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy.  Women taking birth control pills face the same risks for gum disease as pregnant women, such as:
  • pregnancy gingivitis
  • tooth acid wear
  • tooth decay.
Having gum disease when you are pregnant increases your risk of:
  • developing pregnancy-related diabetes
  • having a premature baby (born before 40 weeks of gestation).
 
The promotion of healthy teeth and gums is an emerging priority for the National Collaborating Centre for Aboriginal Health. Studies show:
  • Approximately 44 out of 100 First Nations peoples have significant plaque and tartar build-up and signs of early gum disease.
  • Among Inuit, the Inuit Oral Health Survey found approximately 30 out of 100 Inuit have ongoing pain and avoid certain foods because of problems with their mouths.
Smoking is one of the most important risk factors for poor oral health. In Canada, the Aboriginal population has a higher smoking rate than the non-Aboriginal population.

Other risk factors for gum disease are unmanaged diabetes and poor mouth care. Type 2 diabetes is 3-5 times more prevalent among First Nations people and is increasing among Inuit, putting them at greater risk for periodontal disease.

The most effective way to maintain a healthy mouth is through regular brushing and flossing and regular visits to your dentist.

Learn more about Indigenous oral health
 

Tooth decay and gum disease can happen to anyone. Your risk for dental health problems increases if you: 


  • Have a diet high in sugary foods and drinks (increases your risk for tooth decay)
  • Are a smoker or chew tobacco (increases your risk for oral cancer and gum disease, damages gum tissues and exposes teeth roots, causes bad breath and stains teeth)
  • Are a heavy drinker of alcoholic beverages (increases your risk for oral cancer, increases your risk for tooth decay and infection)
  • Have diabetes (causes pain, inflamed gums and gum disease from sugars in the bloodstream, increases risk of dry mouth, increases risk of a burning feeling in the mouth)
  • Are on certain medications (increases risk for dry mouth)
  • Have an eating disorder (erodes tooth enamel from stomach acids due to vomiting, increases risk for dry mouth and tooth sensitivity, increases risk for gum disease)
  • Are pregnant (changes your ability to taste increases you risk for red, swollen gums that bleed (pregnancy gingivitis)
  • Are 60 years of age or older (increases risk for tooth decay and gum disease, increases risk for dry mouth, increases risk for oral cancer).

Talk to your dentist or healthcare provider about your risks for tooth and gum disease.


Throughout your life

There are actions you can take throughout your life to keep your mouth healthy and prevent dental problems.

During puberty, higher levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone (that come as your breasts develop and your period begins) can impact your dental health. This can cause:
  • more blood to flow to your gums
  • your gums look to puffy, red or feel more sensitive
  • your gums to bleed when you brush or floss your teeth. 
Taking good care of your teeth by brushing and flossing regularly will help. Talk to your dentist if you are worried about your dental health. 

Eating disorders

Research studies suggest the health of your teeth and gums can be affected if you are struggling with an eating disorder, such as bulimia (throwing up food). If you make yourself vomit after a binge (eating large amounts of food), and do this on a regular basis, the stomach acids that come into your mouth can:  
  • erode your tooth enamel from stomach acids 
  • increase your risk for dry mouth and tooth sensitivity
  • increase your risk for gum disease.
Eating disorders are a mental health issue, unhealthy behaviours that you develop to help you cope with life’s challenges. If you are struggling with an eating disorder, reach out to safe friends and families and seek professional help.

Talk to your dentist about further actions you can take to protect your teeth and gums. ‎Visit the National Eating Disorders Association for information on dental complications from eating disorders.
During your 20s, 30s, and 40s, your period, contraceptives and pregnancy can all affect the health of your teeth and gums.

Menstruation

As your hormone levels fluctuate before, during and after your period, you may experience minor changes in the health of your teeth and gums. Some women experience these symptoms a few days before their period begins: 
  • swollen or bleeding gums (gingivitis)
  • canker sores
  • enlarged saliva glands.
Taking care of your teeth by brushing and flossing daily will help you keep your mouth healthy.

Contraception

If you take oral contraceptives like the birth control pill, patch or injection (Depo Provera), you may experience similar dental health issues to women who are pregnant. This is because oral contraceptives mimic pregnancy in the body. The most common dental health issue for women taking oral contraceptives is gum disease (gingivitis). 

Talk to your dentist if you are taking contraceptives to discuss your risks and ways you can protect your teeth and gums.

Pregnancy

If you are pregnant, taking care of your teeth and gums will protect your own health and that of your baby’s. Research shows that keeping your teeth and gums healthy can decrease your risk of:
  • having a premature delivery
  • having a low birth weight baby.
As your hormone levels rise during pregnancy, your risk for these dental health conditions increases:

  • Pregnancy gingivitis - a condition where bacteria along your gums causes them to become red and swollen. This typically occurs between the third and ninth month of pregnancy. For most women, the condition disappears after birth. 
  • Tooth acid wear - if you experience moderate to severe morning sickness, the stomach acids in your vomit may wear down your tooth enamel.
  • Tooth decay - you may be at a higher risk of developing cavities, especially if you crave and consume foods high in refined sugar and flour.

Having gestational diabetes (pregnancy-induced diabetes) can also increase your risk for tooth decay and gum inflammation and disease.


The BC Dental Association recommends the follow to protect your dental health and the health of your baby:

  • Brush your teeth twice daily using a fluoride toothpaste and flossing once a day.
  • Rinse your mouth with water and baking soda if you are experiencing morning sickness.
  • Visit your dentist for check-ups and cleaning, and talking about your concerns.

Studies show chewing 4 to 9 grams per day of gum containing xylitol or sorbitol while pregnant or breastfeeding can reduce your risk of dental disease and transferring bacteria from your mouth to your baby.

 
During menopause, as your periods come to an end, your hormone levels change and you produce less estrogen. Some women experience changes in their mouth including: 
  • changes in your taste buds
  • reduced saliva causing a dry mouth
  • burning or pain in the mouth
  • higher sensitivity to hot or cold foods and drinks
  • inflammation of the gums, making them dry, shiny or bleed easily.
You risk for gum disease increases at this stage of your life. 

Hormone Replacement Therapy

Some women take Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) to reduce symptoms such as hot flashes during menopause. When it comes to your dental health, research suggests HRT is effective in:
  • preventing dental pain
  • improving saliva flow
  • decreasing teeth becoming loose
  • decreasing your risk for gum disease.   
Further research is needed in this area. The Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada does not recommend HRT solely as a treatment for dental health issues.  Visit Menopause & U for more information.

Continue to take care of your teeth by brushing and flossing daily. Talk to your dentist or healthcare provider about how you can best take care of your teeth and gums during this period of your life.
 
As you age and move beyond menopause, you may experience more problems with your teeth and gums. 

Osteoporosis

You lose bone mass at a rapid rate after the age of 60, putting you at risk of osteoporosis, a weakening of the bones causes bones to crack or break more easily.
  • Osteoporosis also causes the bones around your teeth to weaken and become loose. 
  • Research suggests that women with advanced osteoporosis are 3 times more at risk to lose their teeth than women without osteoporosis.  
  • Taking care of your bones will help you reduce your risk of tooth loss. Visit Bone health for more information.

Affordable dental care

Many older Canadian adults don’t have dental insurance and can’t afford to go to a dentist.  Regular check-ups and cleaning by a dentist help keep your teeth healthy and identify mouth problems before they become serious.

Learn more about reduced cost dental clinics or visit the Federal, Provincial & Territorial Dental Working Group for more information.

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