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Oral Health and Underlying Medical Conditions

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Sometimes, there is a direct correlation between oral health and underlying medical conditions. For example, burning mouth is a condition that involves a burning feeling in the mouth and/or the tongue. While the cause of burning mouth is unknown, it is relatively common when women experience the hormonal changes associated with menopause.

During pregnancy, another time during which the body undergoes numerous hormonal changes, many women complain of dry mouth. Dry mouth, which is also called xerostomia, occurs when someone doesn't have enough saliva in the mouth. Dry mouth may make it hard to eat, swallow, taste, and speak. And, if left untreated, dry mouth can lead to cavities because saliva helps break down bits of food and helps stop acid from forming plaque on the teeth.

Dry mouth, thirst and dehydration are considered early signs of the increases in blood volume, urination volumes, and fluid demands triggered by the hormonal fluctuations occurring during pregnancy. Other common causes for dry mouth include medicine side effects, diabetes, Sjogren’s syndrome, Parkinson’s disease and/or a blocked salivary glands.

Treatment for dry mouth depends on the cause and can range from medicines to diet changes. To minimize the dryness, suck on sugarless candy, avoid smoking, avoid drinking alcohol, and use a humidifier.

Canker sores, which can also result from hormonal changes occurring during pregnancy, can be a symptom of certain nutritional deficiencies and/or underlying medical conditions, such as anxiety, depression, taste problems, use of blood pressure medicines such as ACE inhibitors, and/or fungal infections. Other possible causes of canker sores include fatigue, stress, hormones, allergies, Crohn’s disease, and/or Celiac disease.

Canker sores are small ulcers inside the mouth. Women are more likely than men to have issues with recurring canker sores. Fortunately, canker sores generally do not require treatment and usually heal on their own in one to three weeks. Large canker sores (e.g., a half inch or larger) may, however, require medicine for treatment. In an effort to minimize pain from canker sores, it’s best to avoid hot and/or spicy foods, use salt water or mild mouthwashes, and use over-the-counter pain medicines.

Tooth loss can be a very serious oral health problem. And, osteoporosis, a disease causing bones to become less dense over time, can be the culprit. Jaws, for example, are often referred to as the anchor for the teeth. Accordingly, a weakened jaw makes losing teeth becomes more and more likely. For example, the risk of tooth loss is three times greater for women with osteoporosis than for women who do not have the disease.

Women are encouraged to take calcium and vitamin D, exercise, eat right, and do all of the things necessary to help prevent osteoporosis. This is an important tool in preventing tooth loss and maintaining overall oral health.


Oral Health: The Mind-Body Connection. www.webmd.com. Web. Accessed 14 Dec. 2011.

Oral Health. Web. www.cdc.gov. Accessed 12 Dec. 2012. http://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/AAG/doh.htm.

Pregnancy. Web. www.ada.org. Accessed 12 Dec. 2012. http://www.ada.org/3019.aspx

Burning Mouth Syndrome. www.colgate.com. Web. Accessed 12 Dec. 2012.

How Pregnancy Affects Your Oral Health. Web. www.colgate.com. Accessed 21 Dec. 2012. http://www.colgate.com/app/Colgate/US/OC/Information/OralHealthAtAnyAge/Adults/OralHealthandPregnancy/HowPregnancyAffectsYourOralHealth.cvsp

Mouth Care and Pregnancy. Web. www.neomum.com. Accessed 21 Dec. 2012.

Oral health fact sheet. womenshealth.gov. Accessed 21 Dec. 2012. http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/oral-health.cfm

Reviewed December 21, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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EmpowHER Guest

Well written article. People underestimate how much the oral health is intertwined with your general health. Cannot stress it enough that people need to have regular dental checkups as well as regular cleanings. Just one facet to maintaining an overall healthy life.


May 20, 2012 - 10:13am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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