Having great oral hygiene is important for everybody, but even more so during pregnancy. Good oral health leads to healthy outcomes in pregnancy, and prevents long-term issues for mom and baby down the road.
What does my oral health have to do with my pregnancy?
Nearly 60% of pregnant women develop gingivitis during their pregnancy 😧. You can thank the increased levels of progesterone for that. Progesterone increases blood flow to your gums which can change the way gum tissue reacts to bacteria. This causes the gums to become red, swollen, tender, and more likely to bleed.
So what if your gums bleed a little bit? Well, if you don't stop or reverse gingivitis, it can lead to gum disease. Unfortunately, if you have gum disease you are at higher risk of going into premature labor. That's because oral infections (like gum disease) might spread bacteria from your mouth to your bloodstream. From there it can enter the placenta and umbilical cord.
As we learn more about pregnancy and gum disease, we're seeing that women with periodontal infections are at higher risk of premature labor, and having underweight babies.
What do I need to look out for during pregnancy?
You want to keep an eye out for early signs of gingivitis, which is a precursor to gum disease. There's a big difference between having gingivitis and gum disease. You can reverse gingivitis within a few weeks if you use proper oral hygiene for your mouth.
Gum disease (or periodontal disease) is an infection that affects the bone and gums that support your teeth. When your gums and bone are affected, you gums begin to pull away from your teeth which makes it even easier for food to get caught and harbor more bacteria. It can quickly turn into a downward spiral.
Pregnancy puts you at higher risk for developing gum disease. So it's important to keep a close eye on your oral health. Keep an eye out for the following symptoms:
- Swollen gums
- Redness along the gum lines
- Gums that bleed when you brush and floss
- Sore gums
- Bad breath
- Recessed gums
- Sore teeth
- Mobile (wiggly) teeth
- Bigger spaces between your teeth
- Raised lumps on your gums ("pregnancy tumors")
Wait a sec, what are these "pregnancy tumors," are they dangerous?
Pregnancy tumors (pyogenic granulomas in dentist-talk) are red, shiny lumps that appear on the edges of your gums. They will often bleed and crust over if you snag them with your toothbrush. About 10% of women get these tumors. While they aren't very flattering and can be uncomfortable, the good news is that they aren't cancerous and usually disappear after you give birth.
While you are prone to getting these tumors, you can lower your risk of developing them by keeping your mouth clean and clear of plaque buildup. That means actually flossing everyday, not just telling your dentist you floss daily 😉.
So what should I do for my oral health while I'm pregnant?
Prevention is the key for avoiding gum disease during pregnancy. During your pregnancy you can combat gingivitis both at home and with your dentist.
First, make sure your at-home cleanings are top-notch to minimize the buildup in your mouth. Just as you're taking extra care with your body during pregnancy, shower extra love on your teeth.
- Brush at least twice per day and floss daily. This helps remove bacteria before it gets a chance to lodge itself into your gums.
- Ensure you're using proper brushing and flossing techniques, as well as using the right products for your mouth. The chemicals and hormones in your mouth change during pregnancy, so the toothpaste that worked for you before might not be as effective during pregnancy.
- If you get morning sickness, don't brush right after you throw up. Brushing too early can actually spread the stomach acid around more of your teeth. Instead, rinse your mouth with cold water and wait 20-30 minute before brushing.
And don't forget to tell your dentist you are pregnant! You'll want to visit the dentist to make sure your teeth remain healthy and get that extra cleaning.
- Regular cleanings remove any tartar buildup along your gums.
- Ask your dentist if you should schedule an extra cleaning during your pregnancy. If you are at risk for gum disease, it's not a bad idea to visit the dentist every 3 months instead of every 6 during to help keep your gums clean and healthy.
- Consider getting a professional deep cleaning. This is a cleaning that goes deeper into the gums to ensure there isn't any buildup around the gum and bone supporting your teeth.
- If you need to get dental care during your second or third trimester, there are safe anesthetics and antibiotics that can be used during pregnancy. The idea is not to wait for things to get worse to the point of having an emergency, because a dental emergency can lead to preterm labor.
You are taking exceptional care of your body to ensure a healthy pregnancy. Your mouth, being part of your body, is another critical piece of having a healthy pregnancy.