Oral Health & Pregnancy

Pregnancy/Prenatal Care and Oral Health

Can Oral Health Have an Effect on Pregnancy?

Growing evidence suggests a link between gum disease and premature, underweight births. Pregnant women who have gum disease may be more likely to have a baby that is born too early and too small.

More research is needed to confirm how gum disease affects pregnancy outcomes. But it appears that gum disease triggers increased levels of biological fluids that induce labor. Data also suggests that when gum disease worsens during pregnancy, there’s a higher risk of having a premature baby.

What Can I Do to Ensure I Have a Healthy Pregnancy?

The best advice to women considering pregnancy is to visit their dentist for a checkup and to treat any oral problems before becoming pregnant.

During your pregnancy, your teeth and gums need special attention. Regular brushing and flossing, eating a balanced diet and visiting your dentist regularly will help reduce dental problems that accompany pregnancy.

What Oral Problems Might Develop During My Pregnancy?

Studies show that many pregnant women experience pregnancy gingivitis — when dental plaque builds up on the teeth and irritates the gums. Symptoms include red, inflamed and bleeding gums.

Pregnancy gingivitis occurs more frequently during pregnancy because the increased level of hormones exaggerates the way gums react to the irritants in plaque. However, it’s still plaque — not hormones — that is the major cause of gingivitis.

Keeping your teeth clean, especially near the gumline, will help dramatically reduce or even prevent gingivitis during your pregnancy. And substituting sweets with more wholesome foods such as cheese, fresh fruits or vegetables is better for your teeth.

What Can I Expect When I Visit My Dentist During My Pregnancy?

First, be sure to let your dentist know you’re pregnant when you schedule your appointment. It’s best to schedule your dental visit during the fourth to sixth month of your pregnancy. This is because the first three months of pregnancy are thought to be of greatest importance in your child’s development. During the last trimester, stresses associated with dental visits can increase the incidence of prenatal complications.

Typically, X-rays, dental anesthetics, pain medications and antibiotics (especially tetracycline) are not prescribed during the first trimester, unless it’s absolutely necessary. During the last three months of pregnancy, sitting for long periods of time in the dental chair can become uncomfortable. And there is evidence that pregnant women can be more prone to gagging. Your dentist, however, is prepared for this situation.

If you need to schedule an emergency visit, let the office know about your pregnancy before you arrive. Discuss any stresses, past miscarriages and drugs you are taking as these can all have an influence on how your dentist attends your needs. Your dentist may also want to consult with your physician before any treatment is started.

If you have any doubts or concerns, insist that your dentist and physician discuss your particular needs. If your dentist prescribes medication, do not exceed the prescribed dosage. This includes aspirin.

Baby Steps to Healthy Pregnancy and On-Time Delivery

The test came back and it’s positive – you’re pregnant. Your mind is rattled with excitement, and you have created a “to-do.” While your “to-do” list and questions continue to grow, it’s important to take the necessary steps to ensure an on-time and safe arrival of your most precious cargo yet. 

You’ve probably heard a few old wives’ tales about pregnancy, including “A tooth lost for every child.” While it seems far-fetched, it actually is based loosely in fact. Your teeth and gums are affected by pregnancy, just as other tissues in your body. You may not be aware that the health of your gums may also affect the health of your baby-to-be.

How does pregnancy affect your teeth and gums?

About half of women experience pregnancy gingivitis. This condition can be uncomfortable and cause swelling, bleeding, redness or tenderness in the gum tissue. Conversely, a more advanced oral health condition called periodontal disease (a serious gum infection that destroys attachment fibers and supporting bone that hold teeth in the mouth) may affect the health of your baby.

Is periodontal disease linked to preterm low birthweight babies?

Studies have shown a relationship between periodontal disease and preterm, low birthweight babies. In fact, pregnant women with periodontal disease may be seven times more likely to have a baby that’s born too early and too small. The likely culprit is a labor-inducing chemical found in oral bacteria called prostaglandin. Very high levels of prostaglandin are found in women with severe cases of periodontal disease.

What if I’m diagnosed with periodontal disease during pregnancy?

If you’re diagnosed with periodontal disease, your periodontist might recommend a common non-surgical procedure called scaling and root planing. During this procedure, your tooth-root surfaces are cleaned to remove plaque and tartar from deep periodontal pockets and smooth the root to remove bacterial toxins. Research suggests that scaling and root planing may reduce the risk of preterm births in pregnant women with periodontal disease. The added bonus is that the procedure should alleviate many of the uncomfortable symptoms associated with pregnancy gingivitis, such as swelling and tenderness of the gums.

As you make your way through the “to-dos,” remember to check off a visit to the dentist or periodontist. This baby step benefits you and your unborn baby.

Premature births: the answers can’t come soon enough

According to the March of Dimes, premature births have soared to become the number one obstetric problem in the United States. Many premature babies come into the world with serious health problems. Those who survive may suffer life-long consequences, from cerebral palsy and mental retardation to blindness.

The March of Dimes has launched a $75 million, five-year campaign to raise public awareness and reduce rates of preterm birth and increase research to find the cause. Until all of the answers are in, the March of Dimes recommends the following to reduce the risk and/or effects of a premature birth:

  • Consume a multivitamin containing 400 micrograms of the B vitamin folic acid before and in the early months of pregnancy.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Stop drinking and/or using illicit drugs, or prescription or over-the-counter drugs (including herbal preparations) not prescribed by a doctor aware of the pregnancy.
  • Once pregnant, get early regular prenatal care, eat a balanced diet with enough calories (usually about 300 more than a woman normally eats), and gain enough weight (25 to 35 pounds is usually recommended).
  • Talk to your doctor about signs of premature labor, and what to do if you show any of the warning signs.