JOURNAL ARTICLE
REVIEW

Women's oral health issues: an exploration of the literature

P Covington
Probe: the Canadian Dental Hygienists' Association Revue 1996, 30 (5): 173-7
9610337
As interest in women's health issues grows, there is increasing concern that today's practice of medicine may not meet the health needs of women. A primary reason is the gender bias that has been inherent in medical education, research and clinical practice. The prevailing medical viewpoint has often been that the male body is considered to be the norm and that the female body exactly the same except for the reproductive function. This attitude has led to a lack of interest in researching gender differences and a consequent lack of knowledge of women's health issues. Fortunately, there is a movement for change. The Women's Health Interschool Curriculum Committee was formed in January 1992 to develop curricula concerning women's health and examine bias that may exist in existing curricula. The Canadian Women's Health Network has been growing across the country and there have been calls to create a new specialty in women's health. According to Angell, this proposal for a new specialty was provocatively debated in the Journal of Women's Health, which started publication in 1992. There is also a growing concern on how to conduct better research to address women's health needs. As more attention is paid to women's health issues, what will happen in the area of oral health? In health care, it would seem that the mouth has become completely separated from the rest of the body. Health conferences rarely have any oral health content at all. To correct this problem, there must be an increase in general awareness of the importance of oral health as it relates to the overall health of both women and men. Good oral health is more than just decay-free teeth. Oral health encompasses the teeth, the supporting periodontal structures, soft tissues of the mouth and oral pharynx area, temporomandibular joints and muscles of mastication. The mouth is a gateway to the body and will also reflect many systemic health problems, such as diabetes, leukemia and lupus. The second step would be the recognition that women may have different oral health needs and issues than men. The common view may be that teeth are gender free, but how can this be when teeth exist in a body, and that body is male or female? For many years, the primary acknowledged difference between men and women's oral health was pregnancy gingivitis. Like medicine, dentistry must re-examine the viewpoint that women's oral health differs from men's only as it is influenced by reproductive processes. There are many areas where women's oral health may differ from that of men. This paper will explore the literature for potential women's oral health issues in the areas of oral hygiene behaviours, esthetics, eating disorders, temporomandibular disorders, and hormonal influences on periodontal health.

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