Dental Care Matters During Pregnancy
By Julia Stanek
While it may not necessarily be the first consideration during pregnancy, dental care is incredibly important for not only your health, but also the health of your developing baby. Changing hormones can alter oral health, making it necessary to integrate a new oral hygiene routine during pregnancy. A mother’s oral health can directly affect her pregnancy and the developing baby, so it is important to know how to properly care for yourself and in turn, your baby. While an increase in risk of complications due to changes in hormone levels can be difficult to control, other factors such as proper oral hygiene, a healthy diet, and communication can help to alleviate severe complications due to maternal periodontal disease.
Hormonal changes during pregnancy can directly affect oral health.
During pregnancy, your body begins to experience many changes, including hormonal changes. An increase in hormone levels during pregnancy causes the gums to swell, bleed, and begin to trap food, which can cause major irritation to the gums. This irritation may cause oral health care to become painful and difficult to maintain. These changes can also affect the body’s ability to respond to bacteria, resulting in a greater risk of acquiring periodontal infections. Hormonal changes can increase the risk of developing gum disease and gingivitis, which if left untreated may lead to a more severe type of gum disease called periodontitis.
Not only is oral care important in maintaining your own health, poor oral health can directly affect your developing baby.
Studies show a link between periodontitis and premature birth and low birth weight. Premature birth is the leading cause of infant mortality and low birth weight can cause breathing problems, infections, and intraventricular hemorrhage (bleeding in the brain) in newborns. Low birth weight babies are also more likely to face a myriad of severe conditions later in life such as diabetes, heart disease, and intellectual and developmental disabilities. Periodontal disease can also cause a condition call preeclampsia. Preeclampsia affects the mother as well as the developing baby. Mothers can experience severe symptoms and even life threatening complications, while the condition can also prevent the placenta from receiving enough blood (meaning your baby does not get sufficient food and oxygen).
Integrating oral hygiene into your daily routine is the best way to avoid complications.
Dentists recommend scheduling preventative exams and cleanings during pregnancy, however unnecessary dental work should be postponed until after birth. Make sure to communicate with your dentist that you are pregnant and be ready to provide the names and dosages of any medications or supplements you may be taking. Diet is also important to consider. The American Dental Association recommends pregnant women eat a balanced diet, brush teeth thoroughly twice daily, and floss regularly. Diets consisting of dairy products are a good source of essential minerals and are good for the developing gums, teeth and bones of your growing baby. Avoid sugary snacks and make sure to brush immediately after eating anything high in sugar.
Approximately 40% of pregnancies are complicated by some form of periodontal disease. Although not every complication during pregnancy may be avoidable, mothers who maintain good oral health throughout pregnancy are more likely to avoid a wide array of significant risks for a baby’s health both during and after pregnancy. Perhaps most importantly, maintaining knowledge and awareness about how a mother’s health can directly affect her developing baby can help to decrease risks of maternal periodontal disease. Dental care is always important, but as potential risks arise during pregnancy due to multiple factors, it is vitally important to keep dental care at the forefront of your mind during pregnancy.
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