Are you expecting? Good oral health is important during pregnancy. In fact, research has shown that there is a link between oral disease and pregnant women giving birth prematurely or to low-birth-weight babies. Taking care of your mouth is important for the overall health of you and your baby. But many women may not understand how pregnancy can affect oral health or what they have to do to maintain good oral care.
How does pregnancy affect oral health?
Pregnancy causes changes in your body in many ways – and your mouth is no exception. Hormone changes during pregnancy can affect oral health. You may experience oral problems that you didn't have before pregnancy. Pregnant women are at increased risk of cavities, gingivitis, and sensitive gums (such as bleeding when you brush).
- Pregnancy gingivitis. Hormone levels during pregnancy cause gum tissue to be more sensitive to plaque. If the plaque isn't removed, gingivitis (red, swollen, inflamed gums that are more likely to bleed) occurs. Pregnancy gingivitis is actually not different from gingivitis that occurs in people who aren't pregnant, but because gingivitis often occurs in pregnant women (especially between months two to eight of the pregnancy), it's called "pregnancy gingivitis."
- Pregnancy tumors. This term sounds scary but these tumours are not cancerous. They are growths of gum tissue that appear in the mouth during the second trimester. They usually go away after the baby is born. However, your dentist may remove the tumors if they bleed, prevent you from eating properly or doing proper oral hygiene, or do not go away after the baby is born.
- Gingival enlargement. This is an increase in size of the gums and occurs less frequently than pregnancy gingivitis and pregnancy tumors. The gums may enlarge to the point that they cover the teeth completely.
- Enamel erosion. Pregnant women have increased acid in the mouth because of morning sickness. The acid causes dental erosion.
Let your dentist know that you are pregnant. Routine dental treatment can be performed safely during pregnancy and will not harm the baby. However, there are certain dental procedures that should not be done on pregnant women and should be performed after the baby is born:
- metal fillings for cavities. Your dentist can recommend other types of fillings if needed.
- routine dental x-rays. Sometimes, dental emergencies require the use of x-rays to help diagnose the problem. If this is the case, your dentist will take all precautions to protect you and your baby (e.g., using a lead apron placed on your abdomen to shield the radiation from you and your baby). Talk to your dentist if you have any concerns.
What can I do to maintain good oral health during pregnancy?
If you've established good oral care before becoming pregnant, continue to do what you usually do and inform your dentist that you are pregnant the next time you have an appointment. If you're trying to establish good oral health habits, that's great! Good oral care during pregnancy is important for the health of the baby. Here are some tips for good oral health during pregnancy:
- Make an appointment with your dentist as soon as you are pregnant or if you are planning to become pregnant. Go for a dental check-up during your first trimester and get a cleaning done.
- Visit the dentist regularly while pregnant. For most people, this may mean every 6 months, but for others, your dentist may have recommended you to visit more or less often (e.g., once during the first trimester and once during the second trimester). Follow the schedule your dentist suggested.
- Brush your teeth at least twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste. If you can, also brush after each meal. Floss daily as well. Keeping your teeth clean, especially near the gum line, will help prevent gingivitis.
- For some women, brushing causes morning sickness. If that's the case, rinse your mouth with water and use a rinse with antibacterial properties or fluoride.
- Snack wisely. Pregnancy can bring on cravings for certain foods and for eating more than usual. Try to avoid snacks with high sugar content. Rather, choose nutritious snacks such as fruits and vegetables. After snacking, brush your teeth.
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