Congratulations, you're pregnant! This is an exciting time when your body is going through a lot of changes while it nurtures and grows a brand new life. You are probably aware of many of those changes – weight gain, bloating, strange cravings – from observing other pregnant women. You have probably also seen all of the information on what a pregnant woman should eat (or avoid), and which supplements to take to support the life growing inside you. But have you read much about the risks of poor oral health for pregnant women? If not, you may not realize how your oral hygiene and dental health can affect your pregnancy.
Oral Health & Pregnancy: It’s All Connected
On the surface, your teeth and your reproductive system seem totally unrelated – especially considering they are on opposite ends of your body. The thing is, everything in your body is connected. This is why some of those pregnancy hormone changes can cause things like migraines or swollen feet. Those same hormonal changes can also affect your teeth and gums.
We all have this substance in our mouths known as plaque – a clear film of bacteria that coats your teeth and gums. Plaque can irritate the gums, causing swelling and tenderness, and it is usually kept in check with proper dental hygiene and regular dental checkups.
In pregnant women, the extra hormones circulating through your body (estrogen and progesterone) make the gums more sensitive to plaque, causing a condition known as pregnancy gingivitis.
Pregnant women could also develop benign tumors on the gums. These tumors are harmless and usually go away when the pregnancy ends, but they can be very uncomfortable, which interferes with eating and taking proper care of your teeth.
If untreated, the gum irritation and inflammation caused by plaque can turn into a more serious gum disease called periodontitis. The bacteria that causes periodontitis and tooth decay could also affect other systems in your body.
With periodontitis, the bacteria in the plaque damage the gums and can infect the roots and the bones of your jaw. From there, the bacteria can also get into your bloodstream and travel throughout your body, causing problems in other areas, including:
- The bacteria in plaque have been associated with diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and both conditions can complicate your pregnancy
- Women with periodontitis are also more likely to have premature births and low birth rates
Take Care of Your Teeth & Gums to Reduce Pregnancy Risks
The best way to protect your pregnancy, and your health, is by practicing proper oral hygiene with these steps:
- Brush your teeth at least twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste
- Pay close attention to your gum line when brushing your teeth
- Floss every time you brush
- Rinse with an antiseptic mouthwash
You should also begin taking care of your teeth long before you get pregnant, so that you have established good oral health before you enter pregnancy. In addition to regular daily hygiene, you should also see the dentist before getting pregnant to resolve any dental issues, and then every six months for routine cleanings and examinations.
If you notice any changes in your teeth and gums during your pregnancy, contact your dentist promptly, especially if those changes make it difficult to eat or practice your normal dental routine.