When most women see the color of their home pregnancy test turn dark, they seldom think, “Gee, now that I’m pregnant, I should probably give my dentist a call.” However, pregnancy does create several changes in oral tissue, and complications of gum disease can potentially harm the developing fetus. So, it’s time to learn up on pregnancy and oral health!
While a call to the local oral health care office can wait until after the OB/GYN confirms it’s time to decorate the nursery, women do well to consult with their dentist regularly throughout their pregnancy. Having regular checkups and cleanings provides the best way for moms-to-be to prevent mouth issues from potentially harming their expected new family member. Let’s look deeper into the relationship between pregnancy and oral health.
Changes That Occur During Pregnancy
Everyone who has been pregnant is familiar with anxiously awaiting the appearance of a true baby bump, not just wishful thinking as a result of eating too many tacos the night before. But women who’ve discovered that baby will soon make two or three — or four or five, for that matter — undergo other physiological changes as well. And some of those changes come with the possibility of loose teeth and gingivitis.
Women suffering from morning sickness often reach for crackers and stale ginger ale to tame their tender tummies, but vomiting frequently erodes tooth enamel. Dentist frequently see such enamel erosion in their patients with bulimia who repeatedly binge, then make themselves blow chunks to stave off the resulting weight gain. Severe and prolonged morning sickness means making two calls — one to the obstetrician and the other to the dentist.
Many pregnant women likewise undergo dietary changes during pregnancy that impact the natural balance of mouth bacteria. Due to the risk of infection with potentially harmful germs, many obstetricians recommend pregnant women cut back on certain cheeses. However, this decrease in dairy may indicate the need to seek out a quality calcium and vitamin D supplement to keep their bones — including their teeth — healthy and strong.
Periodontal disease in pregnant women can lead to adverse health outcomes, including preterm birth and low birth weight. While periodontal disease isn’t the only female health condition linked to giving birth too early to a baby who is too small, doing everything possible to protect the health of the developing child makes sense, and practicing good oral habits during pregnancy proves relatively easy.
Symptoms of periodontal disease include sore, red gums that may bleed while brushing teeth or flossing. In extreme cases, severe bleeding and pain develop. Such mamas-to-be do well to book an appointment with a local dentist, as those with the most severe periodontal disease tend to give birth prematurely.
Steps to Caring for Oral Health While Pregnant
What can expectant mothers do to put pregnancy and oral health on their priorities list and keep their teeth and gums healthy? They can start by developing good oral health habits before conceiving. Women should brush twice daily — occasionally more often after eating sticky-sweet foods like saltwater taffy — and floss once per day.
Seeing the dentist for regular cleanings is also key, so those women who get the happy news when they already have an appointment on the books for routine care do well to attend as planned. Pregnant women benefit from disclosing their pregnancy to their dentist early as well. Not only will this alert their care provider to her condition for monitoring purposes, but it also lets them know to postpone cosmetic procedures like whitening until after they give birth.
Most emergency dental care, such as fixing a broken tooth, is safe to perform while pregnant. The risk of infection outweighs the potential risks of the procedure. As lying in a dentist’s chair for extended periods can be painful for some expectant mothers, speak up and ask the hygienist for pillows or other modifications to increase comfort levels.
Pregnant women can make simple dietary changes to protect their tooth and gum health as well. Sugary sodas, for example, do a ton of tooth damage each time a woman pops the tab and sips one down. As these drinks provide no nutrient value to humans, but provide a rich source of instant sugar for the bacteria inhabiting the mouth, it’s best to replace that 3 p.m. pick-me-up cola with a short, brisk walk around the building or block for an energy boost. Their unborn baby and oral health will thank them.
Supplements may help some women, especially those with less-than-ideal diets. Some evidence suggests vitamin A and vitamin C may help promote oral health. Before starting any supplements, women do well to check with their OB/GYN first, especially if they take medications certain vitamins and minerals may interfere with.
Healthy Pregnancy and Oral Health
Few things compare to the joy a woman feels when she discovers she has conceived. Once a baby is on the way, make sure to protect the little one’s health by taking care of your teeth throughout pregnancy. Mothers who care enough to consider the relation between pregnancy and oral health and tend to their oral health decrease potential risks to the fetus and increase their chances of having a healthy delivery.