Understanding pregnancy and your dental health

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By Jennifer Wallace, DMD

Congrats on the soon-to-be new addition to your family. There will be a lot of changes to plan for in the next few months. Let’s see, there’s a name to pick, a nursery to get ready, diapers/blankets/clothes to buy — but don’t forget to also plan to take care of Momma during exciting this time.

The old wives tale that warns a woman to expect a lost tooth for every baby is false. If the mother’s intake of calcium is inadequate during pregnancy, her bones — not her teeth — will provide the calcium her growing baby needs. This calcium loss is quickly made up after breastfeeding stops. However, the demands of pregnancy can lead to particular dental problems in some women.

Ben Franklin said “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” and that certainly applies to this subject. You are less likely to have dental problems during pregnancy if you already have good oral hygiene habits like flossing, brushing with fluoridated toothpastes, eating a healthy non-sugary diet and visiting your dentist regularly. Pregnancy can lead to dental problems in some women, including gum disease and increased risk of tooth decay from cravings of sugary foods, vomiting from morning sickness and gagging when brushing.

During pregnancy, your increased hormones can affect your body’s response to plaque (the layer of germs on your teeth). During pregnancy, about half of all women (60 to 70 percent) experience a condition called pregnancy gingivitis. Gingivitis is an inflammation of the gums that is caused when plaque accumulates in the spaces between the gums and the teeth. The accumulation of bacteria can lead to the loss of bone around the teeth and can eventually lead to tooth decay and tooth loss. Pregnancy Gingivitis is caused by an increase in hormone levels, which can exaggerate a woman’s response to dental plaque in the mouth. This extra plaque may cause swelling, bleeding, redness and/or tenderness in the gums. Changes in the gums are most noticeable from the second month of pregnancy, reaching a maximum in the eighth month.

In women with severe morning sickness, frequent vomiting can erode the enamel on the back of the front teeth. If you are vomiting frequently, contact your dental office for information on how to prevent enamel erosion. It is important not to brush right away after you vomit, since the stomach acid in your mouth will only help erode the teeth as you brush. Wait about an hour before brushing your teeth after vomiting. While the teeth are covered in stomach acids, the vigorous action of the toothbrush may scratch the tooth enamel. DO rinse right away with water, or a fluoridated mouth wash.

Research has found a link between gum disease in pregnant women and premature birth with low birth weight. Babies who are born prematurely may risk a range of health conditions including cerebral palsy and problems with eyesight and hearing. Estimates suggest that about 18 out of every 100 premature births may be triggered by periodontal disease, which is a chronic infection of the gums. Appropriate dental treatment for the expectant mother can reduce the risk of premature birth by more than 80 percent, according to one study.

Another old wives tale is that an expectant mother shouldn’t visit the dentist until after birth. Of course, the best approach to dental care is to see your dentist before you get pregnant for an exam and cleaning. During your pregnancy, the second trimester is the best time to receive routine dental care. During the last trimester, it may become uncomfortable for you and baby to sit or lay for longer dental appointments.

Pregnancy does not automatically damage your teeth. With proper hygiene at home and professional help from your dentist, your teeth should remain healthy throughout pregnancy. So be sure to share the good news with your dentist ASAP to prevent and prepare for a happy, healthy momma and baby.

Jennifer Wallace, DMD, practices on Lady’s Island at Palmetto Smiles of Beaufort, 843-524-7645.