Pregnancy is a time of great joy! There’s a lot to think about and get ready to welcome the new member of your family. Unfortunately, you may be so busy and excited that it’s easy to forget about the health of your mouth. A healthy smile is important, and especially for expectant moms. During pregnancy, hormonal changes affect your mouth. Bleeding gums and tenderness along with gum swelling are not unusual during this time. However, the principles on how to prevent oral disease stay the same, whether you are pregnant or not. Many changes take place during pregnancy, and the health of the mouth is no exception with some adverse affects. There are many myths that exist during pregnancy as far as dental care is concerned. Concerns include taking x-rays, or even what to do with a toothache. This article will help separate fact from myth.
Your Baby’s Health
Studies report poor oral health increases the risk of problem pregnancy including miscarriage. However, since 80 percent of spontaneous miscarriages occur during the first trimester, it is advisable to avoid any non-urgent treatment until the second or third trimester. By the second trimester, the major layers of the internal organs of the baby have developed, thereby reducing the risk of exposure to any harmful or necessary medications.
During the second trimester, it’s also easier for mother to recline in the dental treatment chair for extended periods of time. However, it may be helpful to get short breaks if you do have to be in the dental chair for quite awhile.
X-rays and Pregnancy
With modern digital radiology, exposure to radiation is extremely low. You and your unborn child are generally at a higher risk from gum disease or tooth infection, than you are with radiation exposure. Other ways you are exposed to radiation include the sun, microwaves and your cell phones. If you do need x-rays for needed dental problem, your dentist will protect you by covering your throat and abdomen with a leaded apron. The collar of the apron will protect the thyroid during radiation.
Medications During Pregnancy
Your dentist may need to prescribe medications or over-the-counter drugs during dental treatment. Make sure to inform your dentist of any medications you are taking. Your dentist may consult with your physician to determine the best medication, if any may be needed, such as antibiotics or for pain management.
Gum Disease and Problem Pregnancy
Evidence from recent studies shows a connection between gum disease and low birth weight babies and premature delivery. In order to avoid transmission of oral bacteria from mother to children and to prevent problem pregnancies, it’s important to see a dentist before and during pregnancy.
Often during pregnancy, due to hormonal changes, the gums become easily inflamed and appear to be swollen. This overgrowth of tissue is called “pregnancy tumor.” It usually shows up during the second trimester, if at all. The swelling is nothing to worry about as far as being cancerous. It is usually found between the teeth and caused by poor oral hygiene, which means excess plaque. You’ll notice the swelling bleeds easily and has a red appearance due to inflammation. The cleaner you keep the teeth and gums, the less likely that this condition will occur or get worse. Self-help with daily oral hygiene and three month visits to your dentist can help prevent “pregnancy gingivitis.”
Healthy Mom = Healthy Baby When you’re pregnant, you have the responsibility for your health and your baby’s health. Healthy habits will help you have an easier pregnancy and a healthier baby. What you eat and your oral hygiene are habits that you need to practice daily by making smart choices. Now that we know an unhealthy mouth can affect the health of your unborn, it’s important to take a few steps to help prevent problem pregnancy:
Practice proper oral hygiene on a daily basis.
Get a dental check up before you become pregnant, or as soon as you find out.
How to Brush:
- Use alcohol-free mouthwash and swish it around your mouth before your brush.
- Floss properly, and if you’re not sure how, check with your dental hygienist.
- Rinse your toothbrush and dab a small amount of toothpaste on it.
- Brush every side of every tooth in a circular motion.
- Brush your gums gently.
- Keep your toothbrush in dry place.
- Change your toothbrush after a cold, or if it looks worn.
The National Maternal and Child Oral Health Policy Center has a list of tips to follow during pregnancy for healthy nutrition:
- Eat a variety of healthy foods, such as fruits; vegetables; whole-grain products such as cereals, breads or crackers; and dairy products like milk, cheese, cottage cheese or unsweetened yogurt.
- Eat fewer foods high in sugar, including candy, cookies, cake, and dried fruit; and drink fewer beverages high in sugar, including juice, fruit-flavored drinks, or soft drinks.
- For snacks, choose foods low in sugar such as fruits, vegetables, cheese and unsweetened yogurt.
- Read food labels so you can choose foods lower in sugar.
- If you have trouble with nausea, try eating small amounts of healthy foods throughout the day.
- Drink water or milk instead of juice, fruit-flavored drinks or soft drinks.
- Drink water throughout the day, especially between meals and snacks.
To reduce the risk of birth defects, get 600 micrograms of folic acid each day throughout your pregnancy. Take a dietary supplement of folic acid and eat foods high in folate and foods fortified with folic acids, including:
- Asparagus, broccoli and leafy green vegetables such as lettuce and spinach
- Legumes (beans, peas, lentils)
- Papaya, tomato juice, oranges or orange juice, strawberries, cantaloupe and bananas
- Grain products fortified with folic acid (breads, cereals, cornmeal, flour, pasta, white rice.)
See Your Dentist
If you’re expecting to get pregnant, see your dentist to determine the health of your teeth and gums. Based on your dentist’s recommendation, continue to see your dentist for check ups, cleanings or treatment during your pregnancy. The first trimester is best only for urgent treatment.
Author: Flora Stay, DDS