Good oral hygiene and routine dental care are particularly important during pregnancy. Oral diseases, such as periodontal infection, are more common in pregnancy and have even been linked to an increased risk of preterm labor.
Why are oral diseases more common during pregnancy?
Changes in hormone levels during pregnancy alter the bacterial composition of the mouth and can lead to gum inflammation, known as gingivitis. In addition, vomiting may increase the acidity of the mouth and contribute to enamel erosion. Together, these processes place pregnant women at greater risk for bleeding gums, cavities, and periodontal disease.
The association between periodontal disease and preterm labor isn’t entirely understood, but one theory is that bacteria in the mouth—or chemicals released as part of the immune response to those bacteria—may travel through the bloodstream to the placenta, cervix and uterus, and stimulate contractions.
What are some ways to protect my teeth during pregnancy?
While improving oral health during pregnancy hasn’t been definitively linked with a reduced chance of preterm labor, you should still take special care of your mouth and gums in pregnancy. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) urges pregnant women to make oral hygiene a priority.
Here are some ways to improve your oral hygiene during pregnancy:
- Maintain a routine dental schedule, making sure to visit your dentist every 6 months for a cleaning. If your last visit to the dentist was over 6 months ago, schedule an appointment today.
- Don’t be concerned about risks to your baby if there are dental procedures that are necessary for you. Dental x-rays are safe after 12 weeks of pregnancy as long as your abdomen and thyroid are shielded. In addition, local anesthesia, root canals, dental extraction, and filling cavities don’t pose any harm.
- After vomiting, gargle with a teaspoon of baking soda dissolved in a cup of water. This will neutralize the acid in your mouth.
- Brush your teeth twice a day with fluoridated toothpaste and floss twice daily.
- Drink plenty of fluoridated water throughout the day.
- Avoid soda and choose foods low in sugar.
What should I keep in mind after I give birth?
Maintaining oral health throughout your lifetime is important too—for you, and for your baby. In fact, some research indicates a possible link between gum disease and cardiovascular disease. More research is needed—and not all current research supports the relationship—but it may provide extra reason to brush your teeth, floss, and get your routine dental check-ups. Some studies, for example, suggest that the bacteria that cause cavities are involved in inflammatory processes that increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Make sure your child also develops good oral habits from the start. Talk to your dentist about how and when to start brushing your baby’s teeth and make sure to schedule your baby’s first pediatric dental appointment by his or her first birthday.
The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, an innovative primary care practice with offices in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, DC.
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