WTF of the day: Women's hormones increase cavities?

You might assume bad teeth are a result of candy or poor hygiene. But could it be too much estrogen?


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Abby Margulies
October 16, 2008 12:10AM (UTC)

In a rather unexpected study, John R. Lukacs, an anthropologist at the University of Oregon, has linked changes in female sex hormones and pressure on reproduction systems to higher rates of cavities in women.

"WTF?" you say. Well, according to Lukacs, the problem extends back to our days as hunter-gatherers. As humans transitioned from wanderers into settlers, female hormones changed more dramatically than male hormones. Traditionally, the decline in women's oral health during the shift from foraging to farming was attributed solely to dietary changes and behavioral differences between men and women, but Lukacs thinks otherwise. Being sedentary turns out to be a boon for fertility. After all, when you don't have to spend your evenings tracking down your next woolly mammoth, it gives you more free time at night to do, um, other things. Fertility increased and the time in between childbirth decreased. The unexpected result? Bad teeth.

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Hormonal changes during pregnancy, namely increased estrogen levels, lead to more cavities. Typical eating patterns during pregnancy -- especially an aversion to meat in the first trimester and a penchant for all things sweet in the third -- don't do wonders for the teeth either. To add insult to injury, the bad eating habits do even greater damage while women are pregnant because their saliva undergoes a chemical change that reduces its antimicrobial effectiveness, which is fancy science talk for "it doesn't protect your teeth as well."

In case you're thinking, "Well, I don't want to have kids anyway," you're still out of luck. According to Lukacs, even the hormone fluctuations that happen during puberty and menstruation and the fact that women produce less saliva in general than men are reason enough to cause more cavities. So take what you will from this study, and brush away if you're so inclined. My lesson? Sounds like a candy bar day to me.


Abby Margulies

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