Oral Health

In the early part of the 20th century, it was common for women and men to lose many teeth as they aged, leaving them to rely on dentures. That story began to change dramatically in the 1940s and 1950s, when NIH scientists showed that the rate of tooth decay fell more than 60 percent in children who drank fluoridated water. This discovery laid the foundation for a major component of modern dental health. 

Today, research on oral health extends far beyond teeth. NIH researchers consider the mouth an expansive living laboratory to understand infections, cancer, and even healthy development processes. For example, we know that oral tissues and fluids, which are home to about 600 unique microbial species, can have remarkable protective roles against infection and possibly other conditions.

NIH research on oral health is working to understand and manipulate the body’s innate ability to repair and regenerate damaged or diseased tissues. These approaches will guide prevention and treatment of health problems not only in teeth and in the mouth, but also in other organs and tissues.

Optimal health for women and men

Certain health conditions are more common in women than in men, such as osteoporosis, depression, and autoimmune diseases. Others are more common in males, such as autism and color blindness. And there are those conditions that affect women and men differently, such as heart disease. While chest pain is common to both women and men suffering a heart attack, women may experience other symptoms such as nausea, back or neck pain, and fatigue, which they may not link to problems of the heart. NIH researchers are studying these differences, toward providing personalized care for individuals. The sexes can also have very different responses to even very common drugs like aspirin. So, NIH research ensures that females, including pregnant women when it is safe to do so, are included in sufficient numbers in clinical trials that test new medicines. Currently, slightly more than half of clinical trial participants are women.

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This page last reviewed on February 12, 2020