Pregnancy and Your Mouth
As most of you are aware, we welcomed our baby boy last spring, and as many of the mothers out there will tell you, pregnancy is an ethereal experience. A woman’s body is capable of so much, and I have never appreciated my whole self more than I have in the last year.
That being said, many of the beautiful changes experienced by the body throughout pregnancy come with a side of sour sauce. One of the reasons pregnancies are so fascinating is that for the most part, it is relatively undisturbed. We don’t instruct our bodies to make eyelashes one day, and create toenails the next. It just happens, all on its own! But what people neglect to tell you are the negative side effects these hormones can genuinely play on our bodies, and those of our babies.
Of course, I am partial to the changes seen in your mouth as you go through pregnancy, for obvious reasons. And even as a dentist, many of these changes have occurred in my own mouth, despite the continuous flossing and diligent brushing only a dentist could partake in!
So below I have attempted to outline and answer some basic questions, and noticeable changes that happen to our mouths naturally during the different stages of pregnancy!
It’s a myth that calcium is lost from a mother’s teeth and “one tooth is lost with every pregnancy.” But you may experience some changes in your oral health during pregnancy. The primary changes are due to a surge in hormones – particularly an increase in estrogen and progesterone –- can exaggerate the way gum tissues react to plaque.
How does a build-up of plaque affect me?
If the plaque isn’t removed, it can cause gingivitis – red, swollen, tender gums that are more likely to bleed. So-called “pregnancy gingivitis” affects most pregnant women to some degree, and generally begins to surface as early as the second month. If you already have gingivitis, the condition is likely to worsen during pregnancy. If untreated, gingivitis can lead to periodontitis.
Pregnant women are also at risk for developing pregnancy tumors, inflammatory, non-cancerous growths that develop when swollen gums become irritated. Normally, the tumors are left alone and will usually shrink on their own after the baby’s birth. But if a tumor is uncomfortable and interferes with chewing, brushing or other oral hygiene procedures, the dentist may need to remove it.
How can I prevent these problems?
You can prevent gingivitis by keeping your teeth clean, especially near the gumline. You should also floss thoroughly each day. If brushing causes morning sickness, rinse your mouth with water or with antiplaque and fluoride mouthwashes. If you are able to tolerate it, using a little bit of baking soda on your tooth brush to help neutralize the acids in your mouth can assist in enamel degradation. Good nutrition – particularly plenty of vitamin C and B12 – help keep the oral cavity healthy and strong. More frequent cleanings from the dentist will help control plaque and prevent gingivitis. Controlling plaque also will reduce gum irritation and decrease the likelihood of pregnancy tumors.
Could my oral health affect my baby’s health?
ABSOLUTELY!!! Approximately 40% of pregnant women have some form of periodontal disease. Research suggests a link between periodontitis and preterm, low-birth weight babies. Theoretically, blood-borne gram-negative anaerobic bacteria or inflammatory mediators, such as lipopolysaccharides and cytokines, may be transported to the placental tissues as well as to the uterus and cervix. This results in increased inflammatory modulators, (prostaglandins), that may precipitate preterm labor.
When should I see my dentist?
If you’re planning to become pregnant or suspect you’re pregnant, you should see a dentist right away. Otherwise, you should schedule a checkup in your first trimester for a cleaning. Your dentist will assess your oral condition and map out a dental plan for the rest of your pregnancy. A visit to the dentist also is recommended in the second trimester for a cleaning, to monitor changes and to gauge the effectiveness of your oral hygiene. Depending on the patient, another appointment may be scheduled early in the third trimester, but these appointments should be kept as brief as possible.
Are there any dental procedures I should avoid?
Non-emergency procedures generally can be performed throughout pregnancy, but the best time for any dental treatment is the fourth through six month. Women with dental emergencies that create severe pain can be treated during any trimester, but your obstetrician should be consulted during emergencies that require local anesthesia or when medication is being prescribed. While digital X-rays are thought to be generally safe, it is recommended that only those that are needed for emergencies should be taken during pregnancy. Lastly, elective procedures that can be postponed should be delayed until after the baby’s birth.
Remember, once baby is born, you can and will transmit bacteria from your mouth to theirs. So make sure that if you have cavities, you get them treated! The virulent bacteria that cause cavities can be spread through kisses, sharing spoons, or cleaning pacifies with your mouth!!!
So remember mamas to be, a very important lesson of motherhood is to take care of you too!
photo credit above: Kinda Arzon