Wounds in the mouth heal more slowly in women and older adults, a new study at the University of Illinois at Chicago reveals.
"While wounds to the skin heal more quickly in women than in men, our study suggested the opposite is true for healing of wounds inside the mouth," said Dr. Phillip Marucha, head of periodontics at the UIC College of Dentistry.
"We discovered that, regardless of age, men's mouth wounds heal faster than women's."
Older women were at the highest risk for delayed healing, their wounds closing half as slowly as younger men, Marucha said. The findings of the study, he said, could have important implications for surgical practices.
"There are an increasing number of surgical procedures being performed in older populations," Marucha said. "A greater emphasis needs to be placed on accelerating the healing process. Discovering the reasons behind these age and sex differences will help us improve treatment, and postsurgical recovery times may be reduced."
The study consisted of creating a small, standardized circular wound, half the diameter of a pencil, between the first and second molar of 212 male and female volunteers aged 18 to 35 years and 50 to 88 years. The wounds were videographed at the same time for seven consecutive days to assess closure.
Testosterone may help mouth wounds heal faster in men, said Christopher Engeland, research assistant professor at UIC and lead author of the study.
"It's a potent anti-inflammatory hormone that is abundant in saliva," he said.
Women are generally more prone to inflammatory diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, Engeland said. In skin, women's wounds heal faster than men's in part because inflammation causes them to close faster.
"The more inflammation a person has inside the mouth, the slower wounds appear to heal," Engeland said. "We were surprised to learn that oral wounds heal more slowly in women than in men. It's one of the few times in the field of healing where men have an advantage over women.
"This indicates that the healing process in skin and mouth tissues is different in some fundamental way not previously expected."