When it comes to oral health, there are many surprising links to underlying conditions. But did you know that biological factors play a big role in those differences? Along with the physical differences between patients, there are differences in genetics, physiology, and anatomy that affect oral health and the way patients perceive dental care.
For example, women tend to have better overall oral health than men. This could be attributed to their better oral health behaviors or to a perception that oral health enhances appearance, well-being, and quality of life.
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But that’s not the only difference in oral health. In addition, women are also more likely to:
- Visit the dentist regularly and adhere to good oral hygiene habits, such as brushing and flossing daily.
- Be affected by hormonal fluctuations throughout their life, from menstruation to menopause, which can adversely affect oral health, making the mouth more vulnerable to cavities and gum disease.
- Have a greater likelihood of developing cavities.
Conversely, men are more likely to:
Importance of teaching healthy behaviors
It’s key to understand your patients’ lifestyle choices as well as their sex and gender identity* to assess their dental health needs. When first meeting a patient, it’s important to ask what name they go by and how they like to be addressed.
Make sure to leave a note in their chart to remind yourself if it’s different from the name on the chart. It’s also helpful to do this because some people don’t like to be called ma’am or sir. Using general terminology such as “Good to see you again, how are you?” is the best way to not offend someone.
For all patients, hygiene and lifestyle behavior play a big role in oral health. Cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, and other forms of tobacco, for example, cause gum disease, tooth decay, and other oral health problems such as cancer. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention caution that untreated tooth decay is higher in people who smoke cigarettes, with over 40% of adults aged 20 to 64 who currently smoke cigarettes having untreated tooth decay. Men tend to exhibit riskier behaviors than women with habits like tobacco and marijuana use, which raises their risk for cavities and tooth loss.
Chronic disease and comorbidities also play a big role in oral health. Poor oral health is associated with chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Although cavities are largely preventable, they are also one of the most common chronic diseases during a person’s lifespan.
Hygienists should encourage regular check-ups and proper hygiene practices, as people with fewer dental visits and routine care experience more tooth decay. Nonetheless, understanding biological factors can help you take better care of your patients’ teeth and gums.
*While sex refers to biological factors related to genetics, physiology, and anatomy, gender relates to social roles, behaviors, attitudes, and identities.