Dental health (also called oral health) is the health of your gums and teeth. It’s an important part of your overall health.
Some studies show a link between periodontitis (a gum disease) and premature birth (birth before 37 weeks of pregnancy) and low birthweight (less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces). Taking good care of your gums and teeth during pregnancy can help you and your baby be healthy.
How does pregnancy affect your dental health?
Pregnancy changes in your body can affect your gums and teeth. During pregnancy, you have more blood flowing through your body, more acid in your mouth and rising hormone levels. Hormones are chemicals made by the body.
These changes mean that you’re more likely to have some dental health problems during pregnancy than you did before you got pregnant. These problems include:
- Gingivitis. This is when you have red, swollen or sore gums. Your gums may bleed when you brush your teeth. High levels of the hormone progesterone can lead to gingivitis during pregnancy. Without treatment, gingivitis can become a serious gum disease called periodontitis.
- Loose teeth. High levels of the hormones progesterone and estrogen during pregnancy can affect the tissues and bones that keep your teeth in place.This can make your teeth loose.
- Periodontitis. This is a serious gum disease. It happens when there’s swelling and infection in the gums and bones that keep your teeth in place. This can make your teeth loose.
- Pregnancy tumors. These tumors are not cancer. They are lumps that form on swollen gums, usually in between teeth. This can cause bleeding. The tumors may be caused by having too much plaque (sticky bacteria that forms on teeth). Pregnancy tumors usually go away on their own. But you may need to have them removed by surgery sometime after you give birth.
- Tooth decay. This is when acids in your mouth break down a tooth’s enamel. Enamel is the hard, outer layer of a tooth. Because you have more acid in your mouth than usual during pregnancy, you’re more likely to have tooth decay. If you have morning sicknessand throw up often, you have even more acid in your mouth.
- Tooth loss. If you have serious tooth decay or gum disease, your teeth may fall out Or your dentist may need to remove your teeth.
What are signs and symptoms of dental health problems during pregnancy?
Signs and symptoms include:
- Bad breath
- Gums that hurt when they’re touched, or gums that bleed when you brush your teeth
- Loose teeth
- Mouth sores, lumps or other growths
- Red or red-purple gums
- Shiny, sore or swollen gums
- Toothache or other pain
Call your dentist if you have any of these signs or symptoms.
How are dental health problems diagnosed during pregnancy?
You may notice a problem with your teeth or gums, or your dentist may find one during a regular dental checkup.
Get regular dental checkups before and during pregnancy. If you haven’t been to the dentist recently, see your dentist early in pregnancy. At your checkup, tell your dentist that you’re pregnant and about any prescription or over-the-counter medicines you take. If you’re not pregnant yet, tell your dentist you’re planning to get pregnant.
Dental checkups during pregnancy are important so that your dentist can find and treat dental problems. Regular teeth cleanings also help prevent tooth decay. If you have any problems, your dentist can recommend treatment during pregnancy or after you give birth.
If you have a dental problem, your dentist may take an X-ray. An X-ray is a medical test that uses radiation to make a picture of your body on film. Dental X-rays can show problems, like cavities, signs of plaque under your gums or bone loss in your mouth. Dental X-rays use very small amounts of radiation. But make sure your provider knows you’re pregnant and protects you with a lead apron and collar that wraps around your neck. This helps keep your body and your baby safe.
How are dental health problems treated during pregnancy?
The kind of dental treatment you get depends on the problem that you have, and how far along you are in your pregnancy.
You may just need a really good teeth cleaning from your dentist. Or you may need surgery in your mouth. Your dentist can safely treat many problems during pregnancy. But he may tell you it’s better to wait until after birth for some treatments.
Your dentist may avoid treating some problems in the first trimester of pregnancy because this is an important time in your baby’s growth and development. Your dentist also may suggest postponing some dental treatments during pregnancy if you’ve had a miscarriage in the past, or if you’re at higher risk of miscarriage than other women. Miscarriage is when a baby dies in the womb before 20 weeks of pregnancy.
How can you help prevent dental health problems?
Here’s how you can help keep your teeth and gums healthy:
- Brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste and floss every day. Brush using a toothbrush with soft bristles twice a day. Floss once a day to clean in between your teeth. Regular brushing and flossing around the gum line can remove plaque and prevent periodontitis and tooth decay.
- If morning sickness makes you feel too sick to brush your teeth, rinse your mouth with water or mouthwash. If you throw up, rinse your mouth with water to wash away the acid.
- Visit your dentist for a regular dental checkup every 6 months, even during pregnancy. Eat healthy foods. They give you and your growing baby important nutrients. Your baby’s teeth start developing between 3 and 6 months of pregnancy. Nutrients, like calcium, protein and vitamins A, C and D, help your baby’s teeth grow healthy.
- Limit sweets. Having too many sweet foods or drinks can lead to tooth decay. Instead of sweets, drink water and pick healthy foods like fruits, vegetables and dairy products.