Good oral hygiene habits mean less dental problems during and after pregnancy.
Hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy can affect the body’s response to dental plaque (i.e. the film overlying teeth produced by and enclosing bacteria).
This often leads to an increase in periodontal (gum) problems, sometimes called “pregnancy gingivitis”.
Chronic gum (periodontal) disease has been linked to premature birth rates along with low birth weight. Preterm birth rate has been reported to be 11.2% in women without periodontal disease compared to 28.6% in women with moderate to severe periodontal disease (Offenbacher,2006).
Various reasons have been surmised as to the reason why this occurs, most are linked to the bacteria causing periodontal disease and the inflammatory changes that arise.
Hormonal changes during pregnancy make women more susceptible to gum problems. Consequently, it is very important to maintain regular dental care appointments with your dentist throughout pregnancy. Gingival (gum) inflammation, swelling and bleeding may increase during pregnancy.
Occasionally, a severe gum swelling, known as a “pregnancy epulis” or “pregnancy tumour”, may occur as a severe response to debris left on teeth. This often may subside spontaneously following birth of the baby. However, if not, it may require removal of the gingival growth by your dentist following the birth.
The treatment for gingival and periodontal disease is as simple as removing the plaque and calculus that adhere to the tooth surface, reducing the “bacterial load”.
Video: Gingivitis removal
For more information on Gingivitis and Periodontitis, visit our Preventative Care page here.
Pregnancy, however, does not change or damage our teeth, contrary to “old wives’ tales”. If calcium intake is inadequate in pregnancy, the mother’s bones (not teeth) provide the necessary calcium for the growing baby. Most dental treatment is possible during pregnancy. Radiographs (x-rays) may be deferred until baby’s birth, or at least, if necessary for an emergency, not be taken in the first trimester.
Other problems that occur during pregnancy that may affect the teeth include vomiting or increased gagging reflex, especially when brushing teeth. These symptoms associated with morning sickness usually resolve with the reduction of morning sickness. However, repeated vomiting or reflux (also a problem during pregnancy) can cause erosion of the tooth enamel and thereby increase risk of decay and sensitivity of teeth.
Some women are known to develop food cravings or avoidances whilst pregnant. This can lead not only to an increased weight gain or nutritional deficiencies, but also, if there is an increased intake of sugary snacks or drinks may increase the risk of tooth decay. It is often recommended that in order to combat morning sickness that small intakes of food be taken more regularly, but try snacking on low sugar snacks rather than higher sugar content foods. Dairy products, including those with low-fat content, are recommended as they are potentially good for your teeth and also a good source of dietary calcium. These include milk, cheese, yoghurt and calcium fortified soy-milk. Other recommended food sources high in vitamin D, which aids calcium uptake, include margarine, eggs and fatty fish such as salmon.
Suggestions to counter the effects of morning sickness include:
- Don’t brush teeth immediately after vomiting, but rinse mouth with tap water or fluoride mouthwash.
- Use a small headed tooth brush.
- Use fluoridated tooth paste and mouth wash to combat the effects of acid increase in oral environment.
- Take your time to brush your teeth.
So remember these points to help you through your pregnancy:
- Visit your dentist before you get pregnant so you begin with great oral health.
- Control plaque and calculus (tartar) build up on teeth with regular visits to your dentist to maintain good oral health.
- Maintain good home habits by tooth brushing twice daily and flossing once daily.
- Use fluoride containing toothpaste and mouthwashes.
- Sustain good nutritional habits especially maintaining appropriate levels of calcium and vitamins A,C and D.
- Avoid sugary snacks.
For more information on pregnancy and oral health you can visit our Preventative Care (Pregnancy) page here.