Delta Dental of Illinois urges self-care as pandemic takes a particular toll on women

May is Women’s Health Month — an ideal time for women to focus on their health and well-being. It’s also a time for women to get the care they need, especially after a year that may have taken a disproportionate toll on their health.

Research shows the pandemic has taken a greater toll on the health of women.

Almost 2 in 5 women nationwide (38%) skipped preventive health services, such as annual checkups and routine tests, over the past year. That compares to 26% of men. Some women who didn’t receive medical care during the pandemic reported that their health conditions have gotten worse.[1]

Preventive health services include routine dental visits. Obstacles some Illinois women said prevented them from getting dental care included not feeling comfortable visiting the dentist during the pandemic.[2]

“Studies show that oral health is linked to overall health, which makes going to the dentist for regular checkups crucial,” said Dr. Sheila Strock, vice president, dental services and chief science officer at Delta Dental of Illinois.

“Dentists can detect oral health issues, as well as other health conditions in the body that show signs or symptoms in the mouth,” Strock said. “Receiving preventive health and dental care can go a long way to lifelong health, happiness and well-being.”

Women face increased risk of oral health issues

Keeping up with preventive dental checkups is essential for everyone. But women, in particular, experience hormonal changes that make them more susceptible to oral health problems.[3] These include:

    • Menstrual cycles may cause gums to swell or bleed and can increase the likelihood of canker sore
    • Oral contraceptives (birth control) can increase the level of estrogen and progesterone hormones and spur gum sensitivity, swelling and dry sockets
    • Pregnancy creates hormone fluctuations that can increase the risk for gum disease and lead to bleeding gums, pain when chewing and even tooth loss. Morning sickness and heartburn can also wear down tooth enamel.
    • Menopause lowers the level of estrogen, which can cause burning mouth syndrome, dry mouth and osteoporosis.

Tips for maintaining good oral and overall health

Women can take steps to maintain a healthy smile and reduce the risk of diseases and conditions that have a tie to oral health.

A self-care routine should include:

  • Brushing twice daily with fluoride toothpaste for two full minutes and flossing once a day.
    Making time for regular checkups with the dentist and physician.
  • Choosing healthy foods and drinks such as calcium-rich milk, protein-rich lean meats, veggies including leafy greens, and plenty of water.
  • Managing stress by exercising regularly, getting enough sleep and connecting with family and friends. This can reduce the risk of problems such as teeth grinding and canker sores.
  • Avoiding unhealthy behaviors such as drinking excessively, vaping, and smoking cigarettes or marijuana, all of which can increase the risk of oral cancer.

Women are constantly taking care of everyone else. This month and all year long, they should also make it a priority to take care of themselves.

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