My signature lecture these days is entitled "Roar of Womanhood: How Life's Phases Impact Oral Health." In the seminar, I look at various phases in life through which women evolve, starting with adolescence and ending in the elder years, and how such changes can impact oral health. It's a fascinating study, and each time I present it I always learn something from the hygienists who attend and contribute to the discussion.
I thought it would be helpful to focus this column on baby boomer women, a huge demographic that comprises so many of our patients. They're in our chairs, stressed out, and hotter than hell, so to speak, as they journey through peri- and post-menopause. (For the record, in my research I learned that menopause is only one day of life. It's the day that a woman has not had a period for 12 consecutive months. So for those of you, like me, out there who walk around saying you are "going through menopause," we all stand corrected. Collectively, women are either peri- or post-menopausal, unless it is that one particular commemorative day.)
Traditionally, dental hygienists have educated women about how this time period in life could potentially increase the risk of periodontal disease. Yes, age and hormonal changes can have an influence. Further, there is no question that peri- and post-menopause brings with it a happy list of potential symptoms that cause stress. Therefore, it makes perfect sense that we as hygienists should be counseling our boomer-aged female patients regarding self-help for some of their issues. Helping them find solutions can provide them with the tools to bolster their defenses against this debilitating risk factor. We should do this in the name of treating women's total health and wellness. This can have a direct correlation to the health of the mouth.
Now let's zero in on the big one, which is dealing with women's thermal challenges. When I was peri-menopausal, I went nuts with this. If you're a clinical hygienist, you know how it feels when you're already running hot, and then you have to don a lab coat, mask, gloves, and goggles. It is simply stifling!
While sweating my way through work each day, I read about black cohosh and how this herbal remedy from the health food store might be helpful for hot flashes. I tried it, and it was not. Shortly thereafter, and seemingly unrelated, I decided that maintaining body flexibility should be an important priority for me, and there's no better way to achieve this than through yoga. I began to take classes once to two times a week. Within a few short weeks the funniest thing happened. My temperature sensitivities simply disappeared! What? But I am not kidding you!
As soon as I became comfortable and learned enough poses to begin my own routine, I abandoned the formal sessions and started doing yoga moves at home. Nothing fancy, mind you. I did not dedicate an hour to yoga, as do some classes. I did 15 to 20 minutes at a time while watching television. (This may not be as spiritual as the ambiance offered in an actual class, and women should decide which is more suitable for them.) This routine works for me, and I make this discipline part of my nightly ritual.
I have now been practicing yoga this way for five years. I'm talking the utmost of basics. (There is no standing on my head in my living room!) Only my cat, Bella, watches me, and she often joins me in my poses. My flexibility has improved, and, I have no issues whatsoever with body heat and temperature unless I deviate from my routine. If I go on vacation and decide to stop my practice, my heat returns. This is serious food for thought. I have since read more than a few articles that link the practice of yoga with a reduction in peri- and post-menopausal symptoms.
Please share my story with your patients who are at this point in their life. Tell your mothers, sisters, and daughters, and heed this message yourself. Realize that you don't have to be super-coordinated to do yoga. I do the best that I can, and the only person I compete with is myself. This is something that can help all of us with stress reduction, hence eliminating a significant risk factor for periodontal disease. Onward we go; it is in our hearts' core. RDH
EILEEN MORRISSEY, RDH, MS, is a practicing clinician, speaker, and writer. She is an adjunct dental hygiene faculty member at Burlington County College. Eileen offers CE forums to doctors, hygienists, and their teams. Reach her at [email protected] or 609-259-8008. Visit her website at www.eileenmorrissey.com.