Becoming a parent can have you so focused on making sure everything is just right for your little one that you neglect your own health. A mom-to-be makes all sorts of sacrifices while caring for herself and her unborn child and neglecting her own oral health may be one of them.
It makes a difference how you take care of your teeth and gums both before and after your baby’s birth. Routine visits to your dental health provider can provide a current assessment of your dental health as well as throughout the pregnancy. Hormones that increase during pregnancy can cause swollen gums, bleeding, and food traps that increase bacteria levels both above and below the gums. Minor gum irritation, gingivitis, if untreated can become more serious periodontitis, which research has shown to have a link between preterm/low birthweight babies. In addition, stomach acid from morning sickness weakens tooth enamel and routine brushing and flossing may be missed due to being tired at the end of the day. If plaque and bacteria stay on the teeth and gums all day and overnight this can eventually cause tooth decay. Also, frequent snacking is more common during pregnancy increasing bacteria production which produces more acid and thus weakening the tooth enamel. While prenatal vitamins are important during pregnancy one should avoid the gummy types, which stick to the teeth and contain unnecessary sugar.
A mother’s dental health is connected to her unborn baby’s health. Bacteria in the mouth enters the bloodstream, which can then circulate to the uterus and induce preterm labor. Once born, an infant can acquire bacteria from the mother via vertical transmission. For example, sharing a spoon or a kiss. Minimizing cavity causing bacteria during pregnancy may delay the onset of these bacteria growing in their infants. The result is less early childhood dental caries.
Health care providers should encourage dental check- ups every 6 months for all women, not just those who are expecting. Routine oral health maintenance like brushing twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, flossing once a day, using a fluoride rinse, and limiting sugary snacks will reduce bacteria in the mouth.
Sometimes a woman may be reluctant to go to the dentist during her pregnancy. OB/GYN’s and dental professionals should work together to educate these patients on the importance of their oral health. For acute diagnostic purposes, dental x-rays may be taken. The second trimester is ideally the best time to schedule dental procedures.
Oral health care should become a larger priority during the perinatal period. Pregnant women need to be encouraged to go to the dentist. Health professionals must take note of the effect of poor oral health on the mother and unborn child. With increased collaboration women and children will have the best health outcomes possible.
By Judy Hall, RDH