But did you know that mouth-related problems are another annoyance you may have to deal with in the days before your period? You may experience pain in your mouth and teeth, bleeding gums, or similar issues around the same time, with or without realizing they were nearly simultaneous. And yep, believe it or not, they're connected to your cycle. This is called menstruation gingivitis.
Basically, gingivitis is a common and mild form of gum disease that can happen if your oral hygiene isn’t totally up to par (relatable) or other factors, such as genetics, are at play. When hormonal changes from your period affect your dental health, you’re probably looking at menstruation gingivitis more specifically.
According to a 2019 study in the Journal of International Oral Health, rates of this are highest in the premenstrual phase, as compared to during and after your period. Other experts have found the same to be true. “This is going to happen right before the period, and this is called the luteal phase of the menstruation cycle,” says Whitney White, DDS, a lead dentist for Aspen Dental in Cedar Park, Texas. But how and why does it occur?
How menstruation gingivitis happens
The fact that hormones can affect your teeth and gums sounds a bit random, right? However, we assure you it’s a thing. Monica Grover, DO, an OB-GYN and chief medical officer at VSPOT, explains that when those sex hormones—estrogen and progesterone—rise, they dilate blood vessels and increase blood flow, even in your gums. “This leads to an inflammatory effect, and even normal amounts of oral plaque and bacteria can become a trigger for sensitivity. As a result, gums will become swollen enough [to] where they can bleed,” she says.
Who’s most at risk?
While brushing, flossing, swishing mouthwash, and seeing your dentist at least every six months can be annoying and, well, a pain, they’re crucial. After all, already having dental problems can exacerbate your risk and experience. An older study published in Oral Health and Preventative Dentistry suggests that people who already have gingivitis are more likely to see it become exacerbated before their period, whereas people with healthy gums may not experience the symptoms (or at least not as much).
“Those who already experience problems like plaque, tartar, sensitive gums, gingivitis, and mouth sensitivity can be more prone to getting menstruation gingivitis,” says Venus Patti, DDS, a dentist with Limelight Dental in Mississauga, Ontario.
FYI: Other hormone-related phenomena cause it, too
Given hormonal changes can lead to menstruation gingivitis, you may wonder if other circumstances in which your hormones are fluctuating can contribute, as well. Dr. Grover says yes, listing puberty, using oral contraceptives, and being pregnant as additional triggers. When it comes to pregnancy, “on average, symptoms can start during the second half of the first trimester through the first half of the third trimester,” she shares. According to the CDC, about 60 to 75 percent of pregnant women have gingivitis, in which the inflammation was likely exacerbated by their changing hormones.
Dr. Patti adds that menopause, and even perimenopause, can also lead to similar problems. “Any changes in hormones can do any number of things to your body,” she says.
Prevention, at-home treatments, and when to see a doctor for menstruation gingivitis
First and foremost, these experts suggest being extra mindful about having a solid dental routine. “If you do good oral hygiene habits at home—flossing daily and brushing twice a day for two minutes—and go to your dentist for regular cleanings, gingivitis (and subsequently, menstruation gingivitis) is something that’s reversible,” Dr. White says. Adding in antibacterial mouthwash to prevent infection, reduce plaque, and more is another recommendation from Dr. Patti.
At what point do you need to see a dentist, though? While regular dental care usually does the trick in helping gingivitis go away, any worsening tooth and mouth problems, or problems that extend past your period, indicate a trip to the dentist might be necessary for treatment recommendations and prevention tips.
Ultimately, prevention is key. While periods and dental care are no fun, you probably want to address any issues that arise before they worsen.
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