Growing evidence suggests that pregnant women who have gum disease may be more likely to have a baby that is born too early and too small. While more researching is needed, it appears that gum disease triggers increased levels of biological fluids that can induce labor. Data also suggest that when gum disease worsens during pregnancy, there's a higher risk of having a premature, low birth weight baby.
To help minimize any risks during pregnancy, here is some general advice and some common conditions to be on the lookout for:
- Women considering pregnancy should visit their dentist for a checkup and to treat any oral care problems before becoming pregnant.
- During pregnancy, teeth and gums need special attention. Regular tooth brushing twice daily, flossing once daily, eating a balanced diet and visiting the dentist regularly will help reduce dental problems that accompany pregnancy.
- For some women, morning sickness is a major symptom of pregnancy. Along with the nausea comes additional acid that, if left in your mouth, can erode your teeth. Be sure to rinse your mouth out with water or with a fluoride mouthwash to keep the acid level under control.
- Pregnancy dry mouth can put women at a greater risk for problems such as tooth decay and infections. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and chew sugarless gum to enhance production of saliva.
Most women notice changes in their gums during pregnancy; common signs are gums that look redder and bleed during tooth brushing. Some women also experience severe swelling and bleeding gums. All of these changes are referred to as "pregnancy gingivitis," and they can start as early as the second month of pregnancy. The condition tends to peak around the eighth month, and it often tapers off after the baby is born.
The condition occurs more frequently during pregnancy because the increased level of hormones, estrogen and progesterone, exaggerates the way gums react to the irritants in plaque. However, it's still plaque — not hormones — that is the major cause of gingivitis. It’s most common in the front of the mouth. During pregnancy, the level of progesterone in your body can be 10 times higher than normal. This may enhance growth of certain bacteria that cause gingivitis. Your immune system may also work differently during pregnancy. This could change the way your body reacts to the bacteria that cause gingivitis.
To minimize the effects of pregnancy gingivitis, practice good oral hygiene: Brush twice a day, for at least two minutes each time. Floss every day. Using an antimicrobial mouth rinse also may help you control your gum inflammation and dental plaque.
No matter what symptoms you have during pregnancy, you should always take care of your teeth with good habits that include regular flossing and brushing to ensure you maintain healthy teeth and gums throughout your pregnancy.
Here are a few tips to help during the prenatal stage:
- Visit your dentist for a checkup
Get your teeth checked and cleaned. Be sure to get any needed dental work done. The germs that cause cavities can be passed on to your baby after it is born.
- Brush twice a day
Brush at least twice a day for two minutes with fluoride toothpaste. Use a soft bristled toothbrush and be sure to put the bristles of the toothbrush where the teeth and gums meet to brush away dental plaque and food debris. This is where gum disease begins and plaque develops.
- Floss daily
Floss daily to clean between the teeth, where a toothbrush can't reach, and below the gum line.
- Limit sweet or starchy foods
Sweet or starchy snacks can cause "acid attacks" on your teeth. Drink fewer sugary drinks and eat fewer sweets. Soda and sweets may cause cavities so try to eat more fruits and vegetables.
- Eat foods high in calcium
You need calcium for your baby's teeth and bones. Calcium can be found in milk, cheese, dried beans, and leafy green vegetables.
- Manage dry mouth
Be sure to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated during pregnancy. Sucking on ice chips can moisturize your mouth, and as a bonus, can relieve pregnancy nausea.