If you're expecting or planning to have a baby, one of the people you need to make an appointment with is your dentist. This advice may seem surprising – after all, there's no obvious correlation between your teeth and pregnancy. And yet, pregnancy creates an increased risk for oral disease. Hormonal fluctuations, changes in eating patterns and a less-than-perfect oral hygiene routine are often to blame. So, to avoid a toothache or any other dental problem during pregnancy, your best strategy starts with a dental visit.
Both dentists and obstetricians prefer that women see a dentist before becoming pregnant. This way, the office can do a thorough check-up and cleaning, as well as treat any existing dental problems, giving you one less thing to worry about for nine months. But if you're already pregnant, there's no reason to skip your regularly scheduled appointment.
When you experience a toothache or any issues with your gums during pregnancy, don't wait until after the baby is born; call your dentist at the first sign of a problem. The American Dental Association (ADA) confirms that dental visits during pregnancy are safe; this includes most dental procedures, X-rays and the use of local anesthetics. Just tell your dentist how far along you are in the pregnancy, if you are on any medications and if your pregnancy is considered high-risk.
Cavities start when the germs in your mouth use the sugars and carbs you eat to produce acids, which over time can dissolve the enamel on your teeth. During pregnancy you're especially at risk for tooth cavities, and for a number of reasons: food cravings, ranging from ice cream to pickles, can leave your teeth vulnerable to "acid attacks", and any decrease in brushing and flossing can add to that problem. Furthermore, your mouth is much more acidic during this time, and vomiting as a result of morning sickness can intensify the amount of acid to which your teeth's enamel is exposed.
To prevent tooth cavities, you'll want to brush frequently throughout the day, using a soft-bristled brush and fluoride toothpaste. Keep sugary snacks to a minimum and if you do have a sweet treat, eat it at the end of your meal. Rinse your mouth with water when you aren't able to brush, and floss once a day, just as you would if you weren't pregnant. If you struggle with morning sickness, the ADA recommends rinsing your mouth with a teaspoon of baking soda mixed with water after vomiting to dilute and rebalance the acidic content in your mouth.
It's not unusual for an expecting mother to complain about bleeding gums when brushing or flossing. Hormonal changes that come along with pregnancy can cause inflammation, sometimes called pregnancy gingivitis. To keep this condition from developing into more serious gum problems, step up your home care routine with an antimicrobial mouthwash and see your dentist for more frequent cleanings so your sensitive gums don't have another reason to become irritated.
Occasionally, in the second trimester, a raw-looking swelling of gum tissue called a "pregnancy tumor" grows between the teeth. These tumors bleed easily and may be the result of excessive plaque. Be sure to see your dentist if you suspect you have a pregnancy tumor, but the good news is they usually go away after the baby is born.
Another not-so-common complication of pregnancy is loose teeth. Mayo Clinic explains that this can happen even in the absence of gum problems due to hormones affecting the ligaments that hold your teeth in the bone. If you notice any tooth mobility you didn't experience previously, see your dentist immediately.
Your dental health is an important part of your general health and the health of your baby. That is why, for a safe and healthy pregnancy, dentists and obstetricians encourage women to make their mouth a priority.