Tending to your teeth is far down on your list of concerns when you are pregnant. But, it should be closer to the top. Good dental care during pregnancy is essential, not only for your own health but also for your baby’s.
Growing belly. Random hair growth. Swollen breasts. With all the extreme changes that occur in pregnancy, it would be nice not to worry about the things in your body that stay constant, like, oh… the inside of your mouth?
Sorry, you’re not that lucky. Like it or not, even your gums are hijacked by pregnancy hormones. Increased levels of pregnancy hormones progesterone and estrogen boost circulation, which brings more blood to the gums, according to Sally J. Cram, DDS, a periodontist and spokesperson for the American Dental Association.
Low levels of plaque that might have been insignificant before you conceived can cause worrisome problems now. In fact, most pregnant women experience some degree of gingivitis, which is identified by red, swollen gums that bleed easily. Left untreated, gingivitis can escalate to gum disease. So why is this a big deal? Women with this condition are significantly more likely to have a preterm baby, according to many studies, including one published last year in the Journal of Periodontology.
If you skip brushing or flossing for just one night, within 24 hours your gums may be red, swollen, or bleeding. If you continue to put off brushing and flossing, you could develop gum disease, or periodontitis, which can cause bone loss. Bone loss equals tooth loss.
There are other barriers than just your unusual hormones. The carbohydrates you may rely on to suppress nausea (crackers, anyone?) also bathe your teeth in sugars. Pair that with the morning sickness and heartburn and your mouth is a breeding ground for bacteria.
Gum disease can also trigger a premature birth. In a study of 1300 women who gave birth, studied the dental records of the 13 percent who had delivered prematurely. They found that those who had periodontal disease were four to seven times more likely deliver prematurely than women with healthy gums.
Here’s how to keep your teeth healthy:
- Brush and floss at least two or three times a day. However inconvenient, the reality is that it is important that you give your teeth and gums more attention.
- Switch to a softer toothbrush if brushing makes your gums bleed.
- Don’t skip your annual dental checkup. Try to time it to take place during your second trimester.
- Seek an appropriate level of care, your dentist will advise you on what that is. If you’ve had gum problems in the past, you may need more frequent monitoring. If you have larger treatment you can be treated while you’re pregnant, though that’s no guarantee and special precautions will need to be taken.
- Make sure your diet includes plenty of vitamin C.
If you show them a little extra love you can keep your teeth and gums in tip-top condition during pregnancy.