For women, natural hormonal changes can impact all areas of the body—including oral health. Estrogen and progesterone increase blood flow to your gums, causing them to swell and even bleed. That makes them extra susceptible to plaque and bacteria, increasing your risk for the gum disease gingivitis, which, left untreated, can result in tooth loss. Here’s how hormones affect your teeth, along with steps to boost your dental health and prevent symptoms before they start. Puberty Your hormones and dental health: Between the ages of 7 and 13, your brain’s pituitary gland begins releasing hormones that tell the ovaries to begin creating estrogen. A surge in estrogen causes your breasts to grow and, about two years later, menstruation to begin. Hormonal changes can also result in swollen, bleeding gums and sometimes canker sores—painful but common mouth ulcers. Protect your teeth: Canker sores usually heal on their own, no treatment necessary. In the meantime, oral care becomes especially important, so make sure to brush twice and floss once daily. And visit your dentist twice a year for cleanings to remove plaque buildup which, in excess, can result in gum disease. Your Period Your hormones and dental health: Over your 28-day menstrual cycle, your hormone levels climb as your body prepares for pregnancy. About 14 days before your period, levels of progesterone and estrogen climb. Within about seven days, your body releases a mature egg from the ovary; if it isn’t fertilized within a week, your period starts as your hormone levels drop. That means in the days leading up to your period, during these hormonal shifts, you may notice bleeding gums as well as canker sores. Protect your teeth: Many women don’t notice that their menstrual cycle affects their mouth. If you do, be extra meticulous about your oral care and check in with your dentist. If your gums are super-sensitive, you may want to schedule an additional cleaning about a week after your period ends. Birth Control Pills Your hormones and dental health: Most birth control pills contain a combination of synthetic progesterone and estrogen, which prevent ovulation in part by stopping your body from producing its own hormones. That’s great news for your oral health, since hormone levels in birth control pills are so low they don’t result in increased gum sensitivity. That said, if you’re having a tooth removed, you may be more likely to experience a painful condition known as dry socket. A 2016 study by the American Dental Association found that women on the pill were twice as likely (14% versus 7%) to experience this condition, in which a blood clot fails to form due to higher levels of estrogen. Protect your teeth: If you do have a tooth removed, be sure to talk to your dentist if you have symptoms of dry socket, such as severe, radiating pain. You’ll likely need to get the socket cleaned out and start a course of antibiotics. Pregnancy Your hormones and dental health: When egg and sperm meet, the resulting embryo begins producing human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), which ramps up your body’s production of estrogen and progesterone—both of which are key for pregnancy and birth. High levels of both hormones make bleeding gums a common pregnancy complaint, increasing expecting women’s susceptibility to plaque and gum disease. Pregnancy gingivitis, in turn, has been shown to increase risk for preterm birth and low birth-weight babies. Protect your teeth: Now more than ever, it’s essential to care for your teeth. It’s a good idea to visit the dentist as part of routine preconception care. During pregnancy, be sure to make your dental health a priority. In addition to thorough brushing and flossing, try to avoid sugary foods, which encourage bacteria growth. And check in regularly with your dentist, especially if you experience any noticeable changes in your gums. He or she may recommend more frequent cleanings as your pregnancy progresses to help keep pregnancy gingivitis under wraps. Menopause Your hormones and dental health: In the years leading up to menopause, your body gradually produces less estrogen and progesterone. Lower levels of these hormones mean the end of your monthly period, usually between the ages of 45 and 55. In addition to hot flashes and night sweats, menopausal hormonal changes are linked to a number of oral symptoms, including altered taste, increased sensitivity or a burning sensation in your mouth, bone loss (which can result in tooth loss), and dry mouth (which ups your risk of cavities, since saliva helps rinse bacteria off your teeth). Watch out for receding gums, a sign of decreased bone density in your jaw. With less gum, more tooth is exposed—which can pair up with dry mouth to increase your risk of cavities. Protect your teeth: To avoid bone loss, work with your doctor to ensure you’re getting enough calcium and vitamin D. If you have dry mouth, talk to your dentist. Sucking on ice chips and sugar-free candies can help. Try to avoid caffeine, tobacco and alcohol as well as salty, spicy, sticky and sugary foods—all of which make dry mouth worse. You may want to consider using an over-the-counter mouth spray and sleeping with a humidifier in your bedroom.