pregnant mom grinning

Pregnancy and Dental Care: Tips for a Healthy Smile

Whether you're planning to get pregnant or are already pregnant, looking after your teeth is essential. While dental cleanings can be done during pregnancy, there are a few things to be aware of to help improve oral hygiene. To help, consider the following information about the health of your teeth and gums during pregnancy.

How Does Oral Health Affect Pregnancy?

While your teeth and gums might not seem like important indicators for your health during pregnancy, they can substantially impact you. In fact, studies have found that women who experience chronic gum disease during pregnancy were four to seven times more likely to have a preterm birth or to deliver underweight babies. The more severe the gum disease is, the more premature delivery comes.

This is one of the more adverse pregnancy outcomes related to poor oral care, but it can be prevented with proper hygiene and regular dental checkups. Another way to help reduce the risk of oral health-related pregnancy complications is to focus on prenatal dental treatment and care.

How Does Pregnancy Affect Oral Health?

Pregnancy also has a strong impact on your oral health and can increase your risk of several problems. Some potential reasons why pregnancy may increase your risk of oral health problems include:

  • Pregnancy Hormones — during pregnancy, your body produces more hormones like progesterone and estrogen. These help support the healthy development of your baby but may increase the risk of oral complications.
  • Tender Gums — tender gums during pregnancy are common and are often a response to hormonal changes. Still, some pregnant women may have difficulty brushing due to increased tenderness, resulting in bacterial growth and tooth decay.
  • Changes in Eating Habitspregnancy cravings can increase your consumption of sugary foods, which can impact the health of your teeth.

    Increased Risk of Dental Problems

    The above changes can increase your risk for oral health problems. Some of the most common ones during pregnancy include the following:

  • Tooth Erosion — the stomach acid from morning sickness and vomiting can affect the enamel on your teeth. Over time, this can lead to tooth erosion. If you experience morning sickness, brush your teeth immediately after vomiting to help reduce the exposure to harmful acids.
  • Pregnancy Gingivitis — between 60% and 75% of pregnant women have gingivitis. This is likely due to the changing hormone levels that occur during pregnancy, but if left untreated, it can result in more serious issues. Over time, the bones supporting the teeth can decay, and gums become infected, leading to tooth loss. Signs of gingivitis include redness, swelling, tenderness, bleeding, or shiny gums.
  • Periodontal Disease — when left untreated, gingivitis can progress to periodontal disease. Over time, this can cause serious infections and issues with the supportive bones in the jaw. Periodontal disease should be treated as an emergency dental situation and treated immediately.
  • Cavities — changes in eating habits when you're pregnant can also increase your risk for cavities. The bacteria in cavities can be transmitted to your baby, resulting in childhood cavities or unnecessary oral care. If you experience any signs of a cavity, make a dental appointment as soon as possible. You can get them treated with mercury-free dental fillings to avoid causing any health risks to your baby. Never get dental amalgam fillings if you're pregnant, as this can increase your risk of serious pregnancy-related complications.
  • Loose Teeth — increased levels of hormones can also make your teeth a bit looser. While this can be a bit scary, it's normal and temporary. Don't loosen them further; if you experience any worrisome issues, visit the dentist as soon as possible.
  • Pregnancy Tumors — during pregnancy, you may notice lumps forming on the gums' surface between the teeth. They're often a result of plaque buildup and can look raw, red, and easily bleed. They're also referred to as pyogenic granuloma and are not cancerous. Oftentimes, they'll go away on their own, but in some cases, they may need to be removed by your dentist.

    What to Know About Oral Care Safety During Pregnant

    Routine dental care and urgent procedures are generally considered safe during pregnancy. Still, telling your dentist that you are pregnant at the beginning of your checkup is important. It's also riskier to skip oral care appointments during pregnancy than attending them, even if you practice good oral health habits.

    Dental X-rays are often used in routine checkups, but you may question whether it's safe for your baby's health. Since dental X-rays are localized and the abdomen and thyroid are completely shielded, many experts agree that it's safe and can help you avoid serious dental health problems from developing. However, since you only need them once every six to 18 months, they can be scheduled before you get pregnant or after. Always discuss any questions or concerns with your prenatal care provider and your dentist beforehand to be sure.

    Ideally, the best time to get dental care while pregnant is during the second trimester, but if you're not experiencing morning sickness, you can still go in the first trimester. Waiting until the third trimester is not recommended, as lying on your back for extended periods can be difficult. Ask your dentist for tips to maximize oral health during pregnancy, and if you're experiencing problems, it's best to go regardless of what trimester you're in.

    Some medications are safe to take during pregnancy, but you should always talk to your primary care or prenatal doctor beforehand. Local anesthesia is also safe to use, with certain precautions.

    If you're interested in undergoing elective dental procedures, such as procedures to improve aesthetics, it's best to wait until after delivery.

    How to Monitor Your Dental Health While Pregnant

    It's important to keep an eye on your gums and see your dentist at the first sign of any issue. Some of the most telling symptoms of dental problems include:

  • Loose teeth
  • Bad breath
  • Mouth sores
  • Lumps on the gums
  • Spaces between your teeth
  • Red, swollen, or tender gums
  • Shiny gums
  • Gums that bleed easily
  • Receding gums
  • Toothache
  • Other oral pain

Many pregnant women also notice sensitivity in their gums, which can be a sign of gingivitis or gum disease. If you experience tenderness, swelling, or bleeding of the gums, contact your dentist or periodontist as soon as possible.

Tips to Help Prevent Oral Health Problems During Pregnancy

Taking care of your teeth and practicing good dental hygiene can help prevent major issues and protect the health of your baby. While pregnancy causes an increased risk of complications, good oral hygiene can help. Some great ways to reduce your risk of issues include the following:

Brush Your Teeth Twice a Day with a Fluoride Toothpaste

The American Dental Association recommends that all pregnant women brush their teeth twice daily using an ADA-approved fluoride toothpaste. Focus on cleaning your teeth thoroughly, paying special attention to the back teeth and hard-to-reach areas.

Floss Daily

You should also try your best to floss at least once a day. This can help remove the buildup of plaque in spaces between your teeth, reducing your risk of gingivitis or other dental issues.

Use Antacids During Morning Sickness

If you're having difficulty brushing your teeth because of morning sickness or nausea, try taking antacids. These can help neutralize the acid in your stomach, making it less harmful to your enamel. You may also want to consider rinsing your mouth with baking soda and water to help lower acidity. Add one teaspoon of baking soda to one cup of water, rinse your mouth, and spit it out.

Eat a Healthy Diet

A healthy diet can support healthy dental care during pregnancy and nourish your growing baby. Try to stick to whole fruits and vegetables paired with plenty of whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Sweetened or sugary foods can contribute to plaque growth and cavities, so it's best to limit them.

Don't Smoke

Smoking is one of the leading causes of periodontal disease and is extremely harmful to your baby. By absolutely no means should you smoke. If you're trying to get pregnant and currently smoke, talk to your doctor about cessation tools.

Visit Your Dentist Regularly

Finally, make sure you stick to your dental care schedule, even throughout your pregnancy. If you're trying to get pregnant, schedule an appointment as part of your prenatal care plan. This can help reduce the risk of any serious issues occurring before delivery.

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