When expecting a new addition to their families, few women stop to think about how pregnancy may impact their dental health. However, shifting hormone levels paired with the delicacy of fetal development makes caring for a woman’s teeth during pregnancy critical both for their own health and that of her unborn baby.
Dentists should encourage patients considering conceiving to visit them pre-pregnancy as well as throughout their gestation period. Periodontal disease may permit dangerous bacteria to enter the mother’s bloodstream, potentially causing harm to her fetus. Dental health professionals can significantly reduce these risks by educating their clientele on proper oral hygiene while they’re expecting.
Preferably, women should book an appointment with their dental-care provider for a thorough cleaning and allow their dentist to check for any signs of gingivitis. Patients exhibiting signs of swollen, bloody gums should receive treatment before conceiving. Dental best practices include educating female patients of childbearing age about the importance of pre and postnatal oral care.
Prostaglandin in a pregnant woman’s mouth can significantly impact the chances of premature birth when it enters the bloodstream via cuts in the gum line. Infants born too early often need intensive hospital care to complete development. This puts an added economic strain on families during what is already a stressful time.
Diet During Pregnancy
Medical professionals have long known the importance of vitamin D in helping the body process calcium and magnesium, minerals important to oral health. However, only approximately 18 percent of expecting womenget their recommended daily amount of this vital nutrient.
Seek prenatal vitamins that include vitamin D or invest in a separate supplement. Dairy and fish both contain high levels of vitamin D, and seafood also offers essential fatty acids required for fetal neurological development.
How Pregnancy Hormones Affect Dental Care
The hormonal changes women experience during pregnancy impacts both teeth and gums. Women who experience morning sickness unwillingly expose their teeth to corrosive stomach acids, which can destroy tooth enamel. As the smell and taste of toothpaste can further nauseate pregnant women, rinse after vomiting with a mild baking soda and water solution to remove the acid. The baking soda neutralizes any remaining stomach acids on the teeth.
Babies born to mothers suffering from periodontal disease often suffer lower birth weights than those of mothers with healthy gums. As the disease progresses slowly, expectant mothers should undergo regular dental checkups throughout pregnancy to catch and reverse early cases.
What’s Safe and What’s Not
During pregnancy, the general rule states that maintaining regular dental care improves birth outcomes. However, dental health practitioners should urge patients to postpone elective services such as getting new braces or undergoing tooth whitening.
Dentists should likewise inquire as to all medications the pregnant woman takes, including over-the-counter supplements. Some drugs cause a decrease in saliva production, leading to dry mouth. With inadequate saliva production, food particles remain trapped in teeth longer, causing decay.
Other medications cause swollen gums or changes to gum tissue. Such patients should take care to see their dentists with increased frequency during pregnancy as their risk of developing gingivitis increases significantly.
Finally, women may safely undergo dental X-rays while expecting. Dentists should exercise additional precautions, such as covering the woman’s thyroid and abdomen before taking images.
Once a Woman Gives Birth
Once a woman gives birth, her body continues to undergo hormonal changes. While the postpartum period contains a ton of new responsibilities, reach out to new mothers and remind them of the importance of undergoing a thorough mouth examination to check for any gum disease and to pursue more aggressive treatment regimens if necessary. Breastfeeding mothers are especially vulnerable to gingivitis, cavities and calcium deficiency.
Dentists should likewise remind patients of protecting the oral health of their children. While most children don’t have a full mouth of pearly whites until their third birthday, dental care begins even before teething. Instruct new moms to feed infants breast milk, water or formula, and urge them to refrain from giving babies sweet juice drinks and other sugary beverages.
Healthy Mouth, Healthy Mom, Healthy Baby
Maintaining proper dental hygiene before, during and after pregnancy improves health outcomes for mothers and children alike. Dental health professionals should educate parents-to-be about what to expect and what problems to look for. When dentists and parents work together, more children have the opportunity to grow up strong.