Sex-based Health Differences

In the nearly 15 years since Exploring the Biologic Contributions to Human Health: Does Sex Matter? was released by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academy of Sciences, a great deal of effort has been applied to gender-based research, as greater knowledge in this area benefits the health of both men and women across their lifespans.

Sex differences are clearly evident in disease prevalence and outcome data, and must inform both the nature and direction of research and the development of treatments. For example:

  • Women are more likely to die following a heart attack than men.
  • Osteoarthritis affects more women than men.
  • Effects of sexually transmitted diseases can be more serious in women.
  • Women are more likely to have urinary tract problems.

In oral health, of obvious and particular interest to ADEA and our members, sex differences present in different ways. Of note:

  • Dental caries, or tooth decay, rates are higher in women than in men.
  • Women suffer from certain oral diseases, such as Sjogren syndrome, that men do not.

Sex-differences research is generating new oral health knowledge in the areas of tooth loss and edentulism, dental caries risk factors, Sjogren syndrome, xerostomia, temporomandibular joint dysfunction, diabetes, obesity and taste, preterm birth weight and periodontal disease, violence and abuse, and oral cancer. In 2014, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) also announced policies that require grant applicants to submit sex and gender inclusion plans. This environment has helped lay the foundation for a more robust focus on gender-based health differences within dental curricula.

Yet while we have made significant strides in building both awareness and an evidence base, much work remains for dental and other health professions education. Specifically, there is a need to dramatically expand the research base, and to establish competencies for the inclusion of sex-based health differences in health professions curricula that are increasingly delivered in an interprofessional educational environment. ADEA continues its work to drive a fuller understanding of the unique oral health conditions and disparities that women face, and the reasons behind them, through a variety of products, symposia and research efforts.