Millions of women across the world take birth control for a variety of reasons. As with any prescription medication, there are side effects that can occur when you take it. Many people are unaware that taking birth control can affect the health of your mouth. We will explain the specific effects in this article.
What is Birth Control?
Birth control is a common term used to describe oral contraceptives. These drugs were designed to prevent conception and pregnancy, and today many people take them for other reasons, including regulation of the menstrual cycle and management of severe acne.
Oral contraceptives use hormones to change the patient’s fertility, and these hormones have effects on the entire body. Our interest in this article is the specific effects the hormones of oral contraceptives have on the patient’s oral health.
What Effects does Birth Control Have on Oral Health?
The hormones present in birth control pills have two major effects on oral health. The first is their effects on the periodontal tissues and their response to dental plaque. The second is their effects on the jaw joints (TMJs).
Increased Risk for Gum Disease
The hormones contained in oral contraceptives cause a change in the body’s response to toxins produced by the bacteria in dental plaque. Similar to the hyper-reactivity of hormone-induced gingivitis that we see among pubertal, pregnant, and menopausal patients, the gum tissues in patients taking birth control tend to have an exaggerated response to bacterial toxins.
This means gum tissues will be red, swollen, and tender. They will likely bleed very easily when brushing and flossing. One study showed that: “Females on contraceptives for longer duration had higher pocket depth, gingival bleeding and attachment loss as compared to the non-contraceptive user group. Contraceptive users had poor periodontal and gingival health.”
This means that gum disease is both more likely to develop and progress more rapidly in patients taking birth control than in those not taking it.
Increased Risk for TMJ Disorder
Another effect of oral contraceptives containing hormones on oral health is its impact on the jaw joints or TMJs. TMJ disorder is a condition in which one or both jaw joints suffers from dysfunction. This dysfunction includes a wide variety of problems, including arthritis, slipped discs, and limited movement of the joints.
Studies show that when someone combines oral contraceptives with compression in the joint, the result is increased inflammation (arthritis). This means that any clenching or grinding of the teeth, which puts compressive forces on the joints, will lead to more joint problems in a patient who takes birth control than in one who does not.
What Should You Do if You are Taking Birth Control?
If you are taking oral contraceptives, there are a few important things you should do to help preserve your oral health as well as possible.
Talk to Your Dentist
Make sure you include the birth control pills on your list of medications or medical history at your dental appointment. Not only will it help your dentist understand your specific risks for gum disease and TMJ disorders. Your dentist also needs to know that you are taking them because antibiotics could reduce the effectiveness of the birth control. If you end up needing antibiotic medication for a dental infection, your dentist needs to know so he or she can warn you of the need for additional contraceptive methods.
Practice Great Oral Hygiene
The problem that birth control causes in the gum tissues is an exaggerated response to the toxins in dental plaque. One simple solution to managing this problem is to remove the dental plaque effectively and consistently. If you are practicing great oral hygiene, with twice daily brushing and nightly C-shaped flossing, you can reduce your risk for gum disease.
Wear a Nightguard
If you clench or grind your teeth at night, there will be visible evidence inside your mouth that your dentist can identify. Many people undergo this nighttime habit without being aware of it. However, if you take birth control and clench your teeth, you should consider wearing a protecting nightguard during sleep. A nightguard separates the teeth and prevents the muscles of the jaws from fully flexing. This reduces the pressure placed on the joints and therefore, reduces the risks of arthritis incurred by taking birth control pills.
More Questions about Birth Control and Oral Health?
Call Rockland Dental Specialists today to schedule a consultation with our periodontal experts. We can answer any question you have about how your birth control could be affecting your oral health. Call us at (845) 259-2500 or complete our online contact form today!