By: Abigail K. White, RDH
When you’re pregnant, you know how important it is to take special care of your body. However, you should also know that pregnancy is the time to take extra special care of your teeth and gums. That’s because hormonal changes in your body during pregnancy can increase your chances of developing gum disease. So while you are pregnant, make sure you practice good oral hygiene, which means proper brushing and flossing every day. By combining this routine with a healthy, balanced diet and regular dental visits, you will not only help avoid dental problems of your own, you will also contribute to the healthy development of your baby.
How does pregnancy affect my teeth and gums? Pregnancy causes hormonal fluctuations that increase your risk for gum disease. The changing hormone levels in your body can make your gums more sensitive to harmful plaque—the colorless, sticky film of bacteria that constantly forms on your teeth. Furthermore, if you already have gum disease or signs of gum disease, being pregnant may make it worse. This is why it’s vital to pay more careful attention to your daily oral hygiene routine!
How does gum disease develop? Plaque is one of the main causes of gum disease. If plaque is not removed by daily brushing and flossing, it will accumulate on the teeth and below the gum line, which can lead to gingivitis—the first stage of gum disease. If ignored, gingivitis can progress to a more serious form of gum disease called periodontitis, in which the gums and bone that support your teeth are damaged.
How do I know if I have gum disease? Did you know that as many as 70% of women have some form of gum disease during pregnancy? Please be aware of the following warning signs:
• Gums that are swollen, red and tender
• Gums that bleed when you brush or floss
• You can’t seem to get rid of bad breath or a bad taste in your mouth
How does my oral health directly affect my baby? Growing evidence suggests there is a link between gum disease and premature, underweight births. Research has shown that pregnant women who have gum disease may be more likely to have a baby that is born too early and too small. More investigation is still needed to confirm how gum disease affects pregnancy outcomes, but it appears that gum disease triggers increased levels of biological fluids that induce labor. Data also suggests that when gum disease worsens during pregnancy, there’s a higher risk of having a premature baby.
Should I tell my dentist that I’m pregnant? Yes! As soon as you believe that you are pregnant, tell your dentist because it affects the treatment given. As a precautionary measure, dental treatments during the first trimester and second half of the third trimester should be avoided as much as possible, except in the case of an emergency. These are critical times in the baby’s growth and development and it’s simply wise to avoid exposing the mother to procedures that could in any way influence the baby’s growth and development. However, routine dental care can be received during the second trimester. All elective dental procedures should be postponed until after the delivery. Tell your dentist the names and dosages of all medicine you are currently taking, including medications and prenatal vitamins prescribed by your doctor. Your dentist may need to alter your dental treatment plan based on this information.
Eating right for your teeth and baby:
• Avoid sugary snacks. Sweet cravings are common during pregnancy. However, keep in mind that the more frequently you snack, the greater the chance of developing tooth decay.
• Eat a healthy, balanced diet. Your baby’s first teeth begin to develop about three months into pregnancy. Healthy diets containing dairy products, cheese, and yogurt are a good source of these essential minerals and are good for baby’s developing teeth, gums, and bones. Get plenty of calcium, phosphorous, protein, vitamin A, vitamin D and vitamin C.
Coping with morning sickness: If morning sickness is keeping you from brushing your teeth, change to a bland-tasting toothpaste during pregnancy, or at least brush with water, as the mechanical action still removes plaque from your teeth. Rinse your mouth out with water after having bouts of frequent vomiting. Avoid brushing for at least 30 minutes, as the mouth needs that amount of time to return to a normal PH. Brushing too soon can cause damage from the acid that is left on your teeth.
A time to be healthy and happy! As a mother-to-be, what you do to take care of your health (including your diet) affects the development of your baby’s teeth and gums. As your body goes through a process of change, it is also important to pay particular attention to your own oral hygiene. Maintaining a good daily oral hygiene routine can help keep potential problems from developing. Don’t forget that this is a time in your life to enjoy the natural changes that take place in your body, so radiate health and vitality by keeping your smile bright!
If you are pregnant, or plan on becoming pregnant soon, be sure to make an appointment as soon as possible with your dental hygienist.