More than three quarters of women experience symptoms of gum disease during pregnancy, but it’s not just pregnancy that can increase women’s risk of gum disease. Even trying to avoid getting pregnant can contribute to risk, as birth control medications may increase gum disease risk.
Studies comparing women taking oral contraceptives and those not taking oral contraceptives show that women taking the pills are much more likely to develop worse gum disease. They are more likely to have deeper periodontal pockets — where bacteria are delving into the gums, separating them from the teeth — worse detachment of teeth and gums, and more bleeding on contact with periodontal probes.
Oral contraceptives lead to more damage over time. In another study, women who had been taking contraceptives for more than a year and a half had significantly more damage to their gum tissues than those who had been taking them for less time.
Why the Damage?
So why do oral contraceptives increase a woman’s risk of gum disease? Partly, it’s because contraceptives mimic the processes of pregnancy, so it’s expected that we might see some of the same effects. When it comes to gum disease, one of the most important processes is that it triggers an “all hands on deck” call for your immune system. A pregnant woman doesn’t want to get sickness that could impact her baby, so the body responds aggressively to infection.
Remember, in gum disease, damage to gums and bones are due not just to the bacteria, but to the body’s immune response. So when your immune system ramps up during pregnancy or in response to oral contraceptives, it can increase damage.
The other effect of these hormonal changes is to alter the mix of proteins and other chemicals in the mouth, which can make the mouth a more hospitable place for certain aggressive bacteria.
Protect Your Oral Health
Understanding your risks is the first step to ensuring oral health. If you are a young woman taking oral contraceptives, it’s very important that you practice good oral hygiene and make your regular dental checkups to prevent gum disease from getting serious and threatening your teeth.