Pregnancy brings with it several changes to the female body. From swollen feet and tummies to glowing skin and lusher hair—no part of the body is safe from alteration during the months in which you produce a new person. However, the human body has evolved to put baby’s development first, so not all of those bodily changes are going to be good for the mother. For many pregnant women, negative changes to your oral health are a very real possibility.
Are you newly pregnant? Congratulations! To learn how to keep your teeth and gums healthy throughout your pregnancy, schedule a visit with one of our doctors at Docklands Dental Studio. Call us at (03) 9021 9487 to make an appointment. We are easy to reach from Port Melbourne or South Wharf, via the Web Bridge (foot or bike) or Wurundjeri Way (by car).
Pregnancy Gingivitis and Periodontitis
Perhaps one of the most alarming facts about pregnancy and oral health is that many women have a greater tendency to develop gum disease while they are expecting. Up to 40 percent of pregnant women develop gingivitis, the reversible precursor to gum disease. Some studies have even shown a connection between periodontitis (gum disease) and premature and low birth weight. It’s in everyone’s best interest that you pay close attention to the health of your gums during pregnancy and let your dentist know if you develop any painful symptoms, such as bleeding gums or inflammation.
Why do some women have tender, sensitive gums during pregnancy? The consensus among medical experts is that the hormonal changes that come with pregnancy can bring more blood to the surface of your gum tissue, and cause it to be more reactive to irritation. The simple act of flossing the same way you always have may now cause your gums to respond with pain, swelling, and bleeding. This is especially dangerous, because you still need to floss your teeth to remove mouth bacteria, even if your gums do not tolerate it well.
Many women find that they have to change their flossing routine during pregnancy. Switching to a Teflon-coated floss may be enough, or you may wish to use an oral irrigator or end-tufted brush to clean between the teeth.
One of the best things you can do to prevent a severe inflammatory response from your gums is to be diligent about flossing every day, and to seek help right away if you develop problems. Patients who skip out on flossing for a few days at a time already have a greater risk of developing swollen or bleeding gums, so lapsing during pregnancy is not recommended. If you do develop painful symptoms that make it difficult to brush or floss, contact your dentist for advice. You may need an extra appointment or a demonstration in proper use of alternative forms of flossing.
Many women experience nausea, especially during the first trimester of pregnancy. The working theory is that morning sickness is actually a good sign, as it may suggest the ample presence of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), which is needed to build a healthy placenta. It may be reassuring, but it certainly isn’t fun. Nausea on its own isn’t harmful to your teeth and gums, but any amount of vomiting certainly is. The presence of stomach acid in the mouth can erode tooth enamel and make it more susceptible to decay.
If you find yourself vomiting a great deal during your pregnancy, you can end up with serious enamel erosion and you may even develop new cavities in time. What can you do about it?
The best way to counteract the presence of acids in the mouth is to drink a glass of milk and eat something healthy (or chew sugarless gum) to promote saliva production. Milk and saliva can neutralize acids until it is safe to brush the teeth. Do not brush the teeth immediately after vomiting, as this may rub the acid deeper into the matrix structure of your enamel. Wait about 30 minutes and then brush your teeth.
Some women find that peppermint or salty foods can assuage feelings of nausea. This is fine, just be sure not to suck on sugary peppermint candies or salty snacks made of refined flours (pretzels) or potato chips after you vomit. Sugar, white flour, and potato starch are like catnip to mouth bacteria and will encourage bacterial growth and excretions, doing further damage to your teeth.
Gagging During Tooth Brushing
Some women find that their gag reflex becomes more sensitive during pregnancy. This may be connected with the nausea caused by hormonal changes, or it may last the entire pregnancy. This can become a problem for your oral health if a hair-trigger gag reflex prevents you from brushing your teeth as thoroughly as you used to. Proper brushing means cleaning the molars from several angles, and a large brush head can easily rub up against the back of the throat in the process.
If you find that brushing becomes difficult during pregnancy, try switching to a smaller toothbrush. Child-sized toothbrushes can clean the teeth as well as adult-sized ones, and may be easier to manipulate without gagging.
Similarly, if a strongly flavored toothpaste makes you feel nauseated, switch to a more mildly flavored children’s toothpaste. As long as the toothpaste contains fluoride, it will be an effective tool in cleaning and strengthening your tooth enamel.
What You Can Do to Keep Your Teeth and Gums Healthy During Pregnancy
At Docklands Dental Studio, there are three things we recommend to our expectant mothers:
- Visit your dentist early in your pregnancy for an oral health check-up and cleaning. Even if you are not yet due for a routine visit, this appointment is an excellent time to learn more about how pregnancy may affect the health of your teeth and gums, and make sure you start your pregnancy in a good state of oral health.
- Include tooth-healthy foods in your diet. This may seem like a no-brainer, since most expectant mums are already very conscious of their diet. Eating a wide variety of nourishing foods one of the best ways to ensure the healthy development of your baby. However, many of the foods that nourish you appropriately during pregnancy are also very good for your oral health. Being intentional about eating the following foods may help you meet all your health goals.
- Leafy green vegetables, such as kale and spinach, are excellent for mouth health during pregnancy because they contain folic acid, as well as calcium and B vitamins.
- Milk and non-dairy milks (soy milk, rice milk) contain calcium, which offsets acidity and protects the teeth. Cheese is an excellent choice, as well, as its waxy texture can adhere to the teeth and protect it from other more acidic foods.
- Yogurt: not only do yogurts contain calcium, but their probiotic bacteria may help your gums resist infection by harmful mouth bacteria.
- Like apples, raw cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower have a texture that can clean the teeth of food residue when you chew them. Celery is also good for this.
- Green tea is known to have compounds that counteract mouth bacteria. It also contains some caffeine, of course, so the common advice is to not overdo it. A glass per day is considered safe. Decaffeinated green tea is also available, so use your best judgment.
- Communicate with your dentist if you notice any changes in your oral health. Don’t hesitate to call us if you find yourself having trouble brushing or flossing. We are here for you and will help you find a solution!
At Docklands Dental Studio, we want to help our expectant mums stay healthy and deliver healthy babies. Contact us at any time during your pregnancy and we’ll help you stay on top of your oral health during this precious and sensitive time in your life. Call us at (03) 9021 9487 to make an appointment.
Call us if you’re not sure of the best way to get here. From Port Melbourne or South Wharf, it’s quite easy to get to our dental practice via the Web Bridge (foot or bike) or Wurundjeri Way (by car).
Also published on Medium.