When you’re pregnant, there are so many things on the “to-do” list, like buying baby related products, doctors appointments and ultrasounds, clothes to fit your growing belly, maternity leave or work arrangements, finances and even considering how parenthood will affect your relationship with your partner. Dental health is not usually high on the priority list for most pregnant women, but actually, it should be.
How does pregnancy affect your teeth?
The hormonal changes of pregnancy can result in inflammation of the gums (often experienced as bleeding gums). Pregnancy gingivitis (gum disease) has been shown across several studies to affect between 30-100% of pregnant women, usually beginning in the second month of the pregnancy and increasing from there. Advanced gum disease during pregnancy can sometimes result in loose teeth and has been linked to low birth weights and premature births.
Some movement in the teeth can also occur during pregnancy due to the presence of the hormone Relaxin. This hormone is designed to help loosen and relax the ligaments that will assist with bodily changes and eventually childbirth, but it can affect other ligaments causing hip and back pain through hypermobility and also allow the teeth to shift as the ligaments that help the teeth bind to the jaw and gums soften. It’s not generally anything to be concerned about, but if you’re undergoing orthodontic treatment such as braces, it’s worth letting your orthodontist know about your pregnancy as soon as possible.
The risk of tooth decay can be higher during pregnancy for a few reasons:
– Hormonal changes increase acidity in the mouth. (Acid and your tooth enamel are not friends);
– Women suffering from severe nausea and vomiting expose their teeth to the acidic contents of their last meal on a repeated basis;
-Sugar intake may be higher due to cravings for certain foods
– Grazing on food all day may occur due to either suppression of nausea or for some women (particularly those carrying a multiple pregnancy), they may have a reduced stomach capacity, but increased appetite). Constantly eating means your mouth keep producing acid to start the digestion process.
– Oral hygiene can take a back seat as for some women, their gag reflex increased during pregnancy, which can make using a toothbrush uncomfortable.
How can you protect your teeth during pregnancy?
Maintaining good oral hygiene, having a professional clean with your dentist and a good diet are the best things you can do for your teeth during pregnancy. If you find yourself needing to eat more regularly throughout the day, try to make good nutrition choices and rinse your mouth out after each meal, to help remove food particles that may be stuck to the teeth. Brushing twice a day and flossing is recommended all the time in order to look after your oral health, but is especially important during pregnancy.
How can your pregnancy affect your unborn baby’s future dental work?
A lot of enamel quality is influenced by the health of the child (or the mother) in utero. The baby teeth (milk teeth) develop between the 6 and 8 week mark of a pregnancy (when many women haven’t even realised they are pregnant) and the hardening of the enamel is competed by the 20th week in utero. This means that if there are nutritional deficiencies or illness (especially one that requires antibiotics) during certain stages of the pregnancy, this can affect the enamel quality.
Nutrition is important in preconception and during pregnancy. Women need to load up on their intake of enough calories, protein and numerous vitamins such as A, C and D as well as important minerals such as calcium, phosphate for proper tooth formation.
It’s during the third trimester of pregnancy that the unborn baby accumulates overall stores of calcium and phosphate and Vitamin D. In the case of premature babies, they can miss out on some of these goodies and this may be worth talking to a health professional about after they are born to see if these can be taken as supplements. For babies who make it to full term, they are reliant on the nutritional intake of the mother during this important phase of pregnancy. Once baby teeth emerge, products such as tooth mousse may be appropriate for remineralising the teeth, but it’s worth chatting to your paediatric dentist about the options.
When should you visit a dentist during pregnancy?
Routine dental treatment can be performed safely throughout a pregnancy, but it’s important to advise your dentist regardless. Lying back for extended periods is not recommended during the later stages of pregnancy as the pressure can restrict blood flow to your unborn baby. If you’ve left it a little late, discuss how your dentist can position you in order to minimise any risks.
If you don’t manage to make it to the dentist during your pregnancy, book yourself in for after your baby is born so you can have a routine check up to make sure everything is in order.