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There’s so much to think about during a pregnancy, especially if it’s your first. But are you remembering to make your oral health a top priority? While your teeth and gums may not seem like they deserve extra attention when you’re expecting, pregnant women actually face increased oral health risks.
Keep reading to learn more about why these dental problems might arise, and how pregnant moms can keep their health in top shape. Avoiding cavities and gum disease during pregnancy may result in reduced health risks for mom and baby. If you recently learned that you or your spouse is pregnant, schedule a dental exam soon so that your dentist can provide personalized guidance.
Why are Pregnant Women At Risk for Gingivitis and Cavities?
As with many links to gum disease, we’re not yet certain exactly why the connection to pregnancy exists. Two recent studies investigated this question.
Researchers have long proposed that the infrequency of dental care during pregnancy (due to the prevalence of other types of medical appointments) is part of the problem. But a Finnish study found that this wasn’t actually the case. By examining the teeth and habits of both nonpregnant women and pregnant women at the end of their first trimester, researchers found that the pregnant women did have significantly more lesions, higher bleeding, and more visible plaque. They were also less likely to clean between their teeth daily. But the pregnant women weren’t visiting the dentist less frequently or reporting less rigorous brushing habits.
However, other studies have found that the infrequency of exams may be a cause. A study carried out by the University of Hong Kong studied the oral health of a group of pregnant women, who ranged from 10 to 22 weeks pregnant. Participants reported on their dental history, oral health knowledge, and current health habits. The study found that oral health problems were common during early to midpregnancy, with almost 77% of the women reporting issues like bleeding gums, bad breath and sensitivity to hot and cold. But the study found that those who had regular dental exams were less likely to experience problems.
A Cigna study also backs some of this data up – they found that 76% of women experience oral health issues, but 43% don’t receive dental exams during pregnancy.
The underlying cause of dental problems is likely hormonal fluctuations that govern pregnant bodies. Changing hormones impact the soft tissues in the mouth and increase the likelihood of gums swelling. This opens the door to gingivitis and potential progression to periodontal disease.
Potential Consequences of Gum Disease During Pregnancy
Gum disease is much more than just swollen gums – and this is especially true for pregnant patients. The inflammation and bacteria that accompany periodontitis can have an impact on areas of the body other than the mouth. For pregnant women, gum disease may complicate delivery, and may contribute to low birth weight or premature birth. Studies have also suggested that tooth decay during pregnancy may make it more likely that your child experiences dental problems as an infant.
What Moms-To-Be Can Do For Their Teeth
Help reduce your risk of dental problems and their complications by engaging in the following:
- Brush regularly – Your oral hygiene is crucial – this is how you remove plaque before it can irritate your gum line and cause gingivitis. Be sure to brush at least 2x a day, and always before bed.
- Get in the flossing habit – If you’re not usually a flosser, now is the time to start. Find a floss or floss holder that you’re comfortable using, and start flossing once a day. If your gums bleed or are sore at first, stick with it – this will fade shortly.
- Monitor your gums – You know your mouth better than anyone. If you notice that your gums are swelling, bleeding, or darkening in color, schedule a dental exam right away.
- Get a healthy diet – You’ve probably already made adjustments to your diet to give your baby everything they need as they develop. Make sure you’re also getting nutrients that support healthy tooth development and help keep your own teeth cavity-free. Ingest plenty of Vitamin A, C, and D, protein, phosphorous, and calcium. Avoid high-sugar snacks and get lots of lean protein and dairy.
- Schedule regular dental exams – Routine exams will help keep your teeth, yourself, and baby safe, healthy and happy!