Keeping Your Mouth Healthy When You're Pregnant
Let’s face it, oral hygiene can be hard for lots of us. After a long day at work we want to sleep, eat or relax. It’s hard to make brushing and flossing a priority. This gets even harder for pregnant women. Between morning sickness and the exhaustion, discomforts and stressors of pregnancy it can be very difficult to maintain proper oral hygiene. As a dentist I want all of my patients to know that pregnancy is one of the more important times to take care of your teeth!
The mouth is part of our digestive tract. It is our first line of defense against bacteria on our food. What happens to the mouth can affect the rest of the body and vice versa. Caring for your mouth and teeth is just as important as caring for the rest of your body and your baby. Teeth and gums can become infected, chronic dental pain can cause stress or harm to your body or the baby, and chronic inflammation has potentially damaging effects to both of you.
It wasn’t very long ago that a pregnant woman might have been turned away at the dentist because of concerns that cleanings or x-rays might cause harm to the developing baby. Women were told that unless it’s an emergency they should just delay all dental treatment until after their pregnancy. Then, with a newborn at home women had no time or energy to go to a dentist or to create new hygiene habits and new mothers’ mouths suffered.
We now know that getting regular dental care and establishing oral hygiene routines during your pregnancy can set you up for long term success. And you can pass that on to your baby when they have their own teeth!
Research has shown that dental care is safe to receive during all stages of pregnancy. Medications used are safe, and with proper shielding the radiation reaching the fetus during dental x-rays is minimal. In fact, avoiding dental care while pregnant carries the most significant risk.
Untreated tooth decay and gum disease can lead to severe infections that can cause pain, damage to facial bones, and can even be life threatening. Plus high bacteria levels in your mouth can be transmitted to the baby. Studies have shown that untreated cavities and high bacteria levels in the mother’s mouth can lead to high amounts of cavities in childhood.
Here are a few tips for maintaining healthy teeth and gums while pregnant:
* If you’re suffering from morning sickness, the stomach acid can damage your teeth. Your first instinct may be to brush them right after you vomit, but you should actually wait and let the teeth remineralize. A better plan is to rinse your mouth with 1 teaspoon of baking soda in a cup of water to help neutralize the acids after vomiting (remember to spit this out after rinsing). Wait 1 hour and then brush your teeth with a soft toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste.
* The hormonal changes affecting your body can loosen the ligaments attaching teeth to the bone. You may find your teeth are “loose” or move more than they used to. This is normal but should still be evaluated by your dentist.
* Pregnancy hormones also lead to higher chance of redness or swelling on your gums. Most of the time this is simply gingivitis (small areas of inflammation). We sometimes remove these areas of inflammation but they often disappear on their own after pregnancy ends. Gingivitis can be managed with a proper cleaning and regular home hygiene.
* Gently brush with a soft toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste at least twice a day. Angle the tooth brush toward the gums while brushing to make sure you clean under the gums.
* Massachusetts Department of Public Health guidelines recommend eating small and frequent meals, and then chewing with sugarless or xylitol gum to increase saliva and reduce bacteria, especially when you don’t have time to brush.
With all this in mind, you should schedule a visit with your dentist right away. If you don’t have a dental home, or it has been more than 6 months since you’ve seen a dentist, call us at 617-464-5825 to schedule an appointment.