U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration

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Oral Health

Oral health conditions can cause chronic pain of the mouth and face and can impair the ability to eat normally. Regular dental care is particularly important for women because there is some evidence of an association between periodontal disease and certain birth outcomes, such as increased risk of preterm birth and low birth weight.1 To prevent caries (tooth decay) and periodontal (gum) disease, the American Dental Association recommends maintaining a healthy diet with plenty of water, and limiting eating and drinking between meals.2

In 2005–2006, 39.7 percent of women reported that their teeth were in excellent or very good condition. This varied, however, by poverty status; nearly half of women with household incomes below 100 percent of the poverty level reported their teeth to be in fair or poor condition, while fewer than one-quarter reported excellent or very good oral health. In comparison, nearly half of women with incomes of 300 percent or more of poverty reported that their teeth were in excellent or very good condition.

Dental restoration is used to treat cavities caused by caries. In 2005–2006, 82.7 percent of women had had at least one tooth restored, while 19.1 percent of women had untreated tooth decay. Prevalence of dental restoration and untreated tooth decay among women varied with age. Women aged 45–64 years were most likely to have had at least one tooth restored (89.5 percent), compared to 87.3 percent of women aged 25–44 years and 72.0 percent of women aged 18–24 years. Women aged 25–44 years were more likely than women of other ages to have untreated tooth decay (22.8 percent), followed by women aged 18–24 years (21.0 percent).

Since many physical injuries resulting from intimate partner violence (IPV) involve the head, neck, and mouth, dental professionals have a unique opportunity to assess, educate, and refer women experiencing or at risk of IPV to appropriate services. Physical symptoms of IPV that may be observed during a dental visit include trauma in the head and neck region, multiple or old injuries, and untreated rampant caries.3

1 Brown A. (2007) Research to Policy and Practice Forum: Periodontal Health and Birth Outcomes: Summary of a Meeting of Maternal, Child, and Oral Health Experts. Washington, DC: National Maternal and Child Oral Health Resource Center.
2 American Dental Association. Diet and oral health: overview.
3 American Dental Association. Women’s oral health issues.

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