By: J. Shahangian, DDS, MS
Being a mommy-in-the-making means all sorts of sacrifice. During this time, a mom-to-be can get so focused on making everything perfect for her little one that she can neglect her own health. But, a mom who cares for herself is also caring for her unborn child—that's especially true when it comes to oral health.
Visiting your dentist will allow him or her to assess your current oral health and map out a dental plan for the remainder of your pregnancy. When you take care of your teeth and gums, it can potentially make a difference for your baby, both before and after birth.
Contributors to Declining Tooth and Gum Health:
It's common for a future mom's tooth and gum health to decline during pregnancy. To help you understand that, here are a few things that can cause problems:
Everyone's tired at the end of the day, but add in a pregnancy, and that leads to a whole new level of exhaustion. As a result, routine nighttime brushing and flossing can get skipped—in addition to regular dental visits. This can lead to plaque and bacteria build-up and eventually tooth decay.
Hormonal changes during pregnancy can endanger the health of mom's gums and can cause pregnancy gingivitis— irritated gums that bleed because of being inflamed. And yes, in case you were wondering, it's as unpleasant as it sounds. Untreated gingivitis can lead to periodontitis—a more serious form of gum disease that includes bone loss. Research also suggests a link between preterm delivery, low birthweight babies, and gingivitis.
Morning sickness can do a number on the mouth. Stomach acid makes its way into the mouth and can weaken tooth enamel—putting expectant moms at a greater risk for cavities.
Eating more often during pregnancy is common, but frequent snacking and grazing puts teeth in constant contact with acid in food. This also leads to increased production of acid-loving bacteria, such as Streptococcus mutans, which produce more acid to weaken enamel.
Pregnant moms need a prenatal vitamin that contains folic acid to support their babies' health during pregnancy. When choosing a vitamin steer clear of chewy or gummy vitamins, especially if you are eating them after brushing teeth or before bed. They stick on the teeth and most contain sugar that can damage teeth.
How Mom's Oral Health Can Be Traced to Baby's Health:
A mom's oral health is connected to the health of her unborn baby–and it can all be traced to the bacteria in her mouth.
When a pregnant woman has excessive bacteria growth in her mouth, it can enter the bloodstream through her gums and travel to the uterus—triggering the production of chemicals called prostaglandins—that are suspected to induce premature labor.
After baby arrives, mom can potentially pass her bacteria on to her newborn (called vertical transmission). So, a mom who has lots of acid-loving bacteria in her mouth will pass higher numbers of those bacteria to her newborn.
Brushing Teeth Can Reduce the Risk of Pregnancy Complications:
Expectant mothers who brush their teeth thoroughly can reduce the risk of suffering dangerous complications in pregnancy and take a step towards reducing risk of future dental infection in their newborn baby. Brush with fluoride toothpaste at least twice a day and after each meal when possible. You also should floss each day.
Good nutrition keeps the oral cavity healthy and strong; sensible, balanced meals containing calcium and limited excess acidity and sugar are best for you and your baby's oral health. More frequent cleanings from the dentist also will help control plaque and prevent gingivitis
A mom whose oral health isn't great is more likely to pass aggressive and damaging bacteria to her newborn and that can cause trouble down the road (think about a 2-year-old having to have a cavity filled). So, while eating the right foods, avoiding the wrong ones (e.g., candy, cookies, and other sticky foods) and making all sorts of sacrifices to make their baby perfect, moms need to keep their oral health a top priority. And, make sure to visit your dental provider for regular check-ups.
It may not seem like it at the time, but when mom is brushing her teeth, she's brushing for two!
Additional Information & Resources:
About Dr. Shahangian:
J. Shahangian, DDS, MS, is a board certified pediatric dentist, and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Oral Health. He practices in his hometown of San Diego at Scripps Pediatric Dentistry and is an associate professor in pediatric dentistry at the University of California, Los Angeles. Dr. Shahanigan is also on staff at Rady Children's Hospital and is a proud father of three girls. Follow him on Twitter @SugarBugMeNot and check out his Blog.