Pregnancy can change your body in so many ways. When your attention is on your growing and developing baby, it’s common to overlook the changes happening within your own body – especially in places seemingly unrelated to the pregnancy.
Are You at a Higher Risk of Dental Health Problems Due to Pregnancy?
Pregnant women are more susceptible to certain dental problems, like periodontal disease and dental caries or cavities. The reasons for this increased risk vary and include hormonal fluctuations, more frequent snacking, morning sickness, and different food and drink choices.
It’s important to prioritize oral health during and after pregnancy, even if you have neglected it in the past because it can have an impact on your baby. Women suffering from gum disease, for example, are more likely to go into preterm labor and have babies with low birth weight. Women who are experiencing a lot of decay or oral bacteria are more likely to pass those bacteria onto their baby.
The Impact of Pregnancy on Your Dental Health
Pregnancy can have impacts on your dental health that require careful hygiene at home and close monitoring by your dentist. Paying attention to your body will help you identify problems early. Some of the ways pregnancy can impact your oral hygiene include:
- Gingivitis. Gingivitis refers to swelling and inflammation of the gum tissue and is more common in pregnancy because of hormonal changes, specifically fluctuations in progesterone and estrogen. In fact, as many as three-quarters of pregnant women experience gingivitis. Signs and symptoms include swelling, redness, tenderness, and bleeding.
- Periodontal disease. Untreated gingivitis can lead to gum disease, which is an infection in the gum tissue and sometimes bones. Both gums and bones support your teeth, so when they become infected, your teeth become unsupported and loose and may even fall out or need to be pulled. In the most serious cases, the infection can enter the bloodstream, causing a life-threatening infection that requires emergency treatment and hospitalization. Periodontal disease does not happen overnight and is most often caused by smoking.
- Tooth erosion. Morning sickness or conditions like hyperemesis gravidarum can expose your teeth to stomach acid, which harms the surface (enamel) of your teeth. Morning sickness usually eases up by the second trimester, but it is important to talk to your dentist about protecting your teeth if it’s severe or extends beyond that.
- Cavities. Pregnancy increases your likelihood of dental cavities, which are areas of decay on or into your teeth. The primary reason your risk of cavities increases during pregnancy is because of a change in eating habits (i.e., eating later at night, snacking more frequently, or eating sugary foods).
- Loose teeth. Pregnancy hormones can cause changes to the bones and ligaments that support your teeth, causing temporary mobility of your teeth. While it may feel scary, it does not lead to tooth loss. Seeing your dentist regularly can help you differentiate between pregnancy-related changes and dental problems.
While many pregnant people believe that calcium from their teeth is used for the development of the baby, that’s an old wives tale. Your teeth do not lose calcium during pregnancy.
Identifying the Signs and Causes of Dental Health Problems
Knowing which changes are normal and which changes are worrisome is helpful in getting treatment as early as possible. Common causes of dental problems during pregnancy include untreated dental issues before pregnancy, poor dietary habits, smoking, poor oral hygiene, and inadequate nutrition. Signs and symptoms of a dental problem that requires intervention from a dentist include:
- bad breath, especially if it does not improve after brushing your teeth
- sores or lumps in your mouth
- gum problems like bleeding, sore, red, swollen gums, including gums that bleed when you brush your teeth
- spaces between your teeth that were not there before
- loose teeth
- a toothache, broken tooth, loose fillings, or visible decay
- receding gums
Actions to Help Prevent Dental Health Complications
You have control over your oral health during pregnancy. Steps you can take to ensure you are able to keep your teeth (and keep them healthy) include:
- finding healthy ways to satisfy pregnancy cravings; choose fresh fruit over candy when you can, for example
- seeing your obstetrician for regular checkups to manage your overall health during the course of your pregnancy
- keeping up with your routine dental visits, at least every six months or more often depending on your dentist’s recommendations
- practicing good oral hygiene; brush your teeth at least twice a day with a soft toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste, paying special attention to the gumline
- flossing your teeth at least once a day
- seeking dental treatment for any signs or symptoms of a dental problem
- taking prenatal vitamins and any supplements recommended by your health care provider
- avoiding brushing your teeth immediately after throwing up; instead, rinse with a fluoride mouthwash to help restore enamel
- avoiding smoking and drug use before, during, and after pregnancy to protect yourself and your baby.
For additional information or to setup an obstetrics or gynecology appointment in Virginia Beach or Norfolk, contact us online or call 757-461-3890.