An expectant mother’s dental health during pregnancy is vital to the health of not only her, but also her developing fetus. Many expectant mothers know that hormones change and escalate during pregnancy. When we think of pregnancy and hormones, we think of heightened emotions and food cravings, as well as a changing body overall. Many don’t stop to think about their dental health during pregnancy though, which can be significantly affected by these hormonal changes and imbalances. Dental health during pregnancy requires extra steps to preserve your overall health and that of your baby. Periodontal disease is one area of dental health during pregnancy that expectant mothers should be aware of, as it has been linked to preterm labor and other adverse effects. With a few simple explanations and tips, you can know the warning signs that could mean you need extra help with your oral care.
Gingivitis and Periodontal Disease: What Are They?
You may have heard of gingivitis before, as many women (and people in general) have gingivitis before becoming pregnant. It is a bacteria-caused infection of the mouth before gum disease sets in, and is usually marked by inflammation of the gums. Bacteria from sugars and plaque can form acid that eventually erodes your teeth and gums, causing tooth decay. If left untreated, gingivitis can turn into periodontitis, where the gums recede from the teeth and holes in the tooth enamel are left. Food can be trapped in swollen gums, where they will then deteriorate the enamel. In extreme cases of gum disease, tooth loss or loosening can occur. The goal is to keep teeth clean from plaque and bacteria buildup by practicing good oral hygiene habits. A dentist will use special tools to remove plaque and inspect the gums at your semi-annual checkups, thus helping to further prevent or treat gingivitis.
Pregnancy gingivitis is common in expectant mothers and can usually be detected when gums are tender and bleed easily, such as when brushing and flossing. The increase in hormones comes with an increase in blood flow to the tissues in your body, including your gums. Many women will think that they are simply brushing or flossing too hard, when it’s really hormone changes paired with plaque and bacteria. The more hormones there are, the higher the risk of developing gum disease and other oral diseases.
Besides swollen or bleeding gums, commonly-seen symptoms of pregnancy gingivitis include: red gums, sensitive teeth, loose teeth or pain when chewing. Small nodules may form on the gums called “tumors” that can range from the size of a pinhead to three quarters of an inch. These are benign and usually painless tumors, but can bleed when touched or irritated. These nodules usually develop between the teeth and gums and can get in the way of brushing and flossing properly. If a nodule becomes very large or doesn’t go away after delivery, a dentist will have to remove it.
How Can I Prevent These Problems?
Dental health during pregnancy can thrive by having a good prevention plan in place. If you plan on becoming pregnant, see a dentist beforehand to receive an in-depth cleaning and evaluation of your teeth. That way, your dentist can see how your teeth and gums change during pregnancy and can give you tips on preventing oral health issues. If you already are pregnant, see your dentist frequently.
You can get a leg up on preventing oral diseases right at home as well. Keeping a balanced, nutritious diet is key to overall health, especially while pregnant. Certain vitamins can also provide extra help with oral care such as Vitamin C, A, and B12. Gargling with salt dissolved in warm water can also help with gum irritation and speed healing. Consistently monitor your dental health during pregnancy and talk to your dentist if you see any changes in your gums such as tenderness, swelling, or small tumors. Catching these warning signs early and getting in to see a professional can help prevent a greater problem from getting worse.
Other Helpful Tips
Dental health during pregnancy can be supported by practicing the following the helpful tips:
- Brush and floss daily, at least twice a day. Brush after every meal, if possible.
- The ADA recommends using a fluoride toothpaste or treatment twice a day to keep teeth strong and oral health in check.
- If you suffer from morning sickness, rinse your mouth out every time you are sick and then brush your teeth. Stomach acids can erode your tooth enamel. Rinsing before brushing will help prevent more erosion from occurring.
- Avoid sugary foods (if possible) and brush your teeth after eating sugary foods and soda. Bacteria loves sugar, but you can prevent plaque buildup and tooth decay by brushing frequently.
- Have routine checkups with your dentist!
Dental Care While Pregnant
It is definitely recommended to notify your dentist about your pregnancy and how far along you are so they know what medicines you can have. Dentists and doctors alike have recommended that most non-invasive dental work be done in the second trimester. The baby is growing and developing rapidly in the first trimester and medicines can harm the fetus easier at this time. In the third trimester, it might be more difficult for an expectant mother to be on her back for long periods of time, so the second trimester is ideal.
X-Rays and Medications
X-rays can be taken during pregnancy, and your dentist will take precautions and make sure you are wearing a proper lead shield each time. Studies have not shown that any single x-ray while pregnant has noticeably effected a developing fetus.
Your dentist will only use medicines that are safe for pregnancy. Lidocaine is the most widely used local anesthetic in dentistry, and there is no need to fret when it comes to this and other numbing anesthetics. Lidocaine does pass through the placenta, but is not toxic or harming to the baby. You should not avoid the dentist when dental work (such as cavity fills or crowns) are needed, as the increased hormones can increase your chance of oral infections. It’s best to get these things done, whereas elective dental procedures (such as cosmetic procedures or professional teeth whitening) should be avoided until after delivery.
Why Dental Health During Pregnancy Is Important
Periodontal disease and gingivitis can damage your dental health during pregnancy, and thus your overall health and that of the baby. Gum disease has also been linked to preterm labor and low birth weight. Those cases are most often seen in expectant women with severe gum disease, whereas most women will not have a problem with normal pregnancy gingivitis, especially if they see a dentist frequently.
Make routine dental care a part of your pregnancy plan and keep up on good oral health practices. Brush and floss your teeth as often as possible. Use fluoride and try to cut back on all the sugary sweets. But most of all, see your dentist! Many problems—especially periodontal disease—can be prevented and treated with the help of a dental professional. For expectant mothers, dental health during pregnancy is vital to the health of the developing baby. Do all you can to be as healthy as possible and get the help of a medical or dental professional as needed.