The idea of dental health primarily concerns itself with the health of your mouth, teeth and gums. It is a crucial part of your overall health. If you are either planning to get pregnant, or already pregnant, your oral health also becomes an important part of your prenatal care.
Pregnancy can increase your risk for health issues by manifolds, which includes oral health problems, and these problems can affect your health and the health of the foetus. Some studies have directly linked gum diseases to premature birth, for instance. Premature birth refers to the situation where the delivery of the baby happens much before the estimated time, ie before completion of 37 weeks of pregnancy. Premature babies are way more susceptible to developing health problems and diseases at birth, and later in life when they will grow up completely.
Taking proper care of your mouth, teeth and gums during the span of your pregnancy can ensure that you have a healthy pregnancy, a healthy baby.
How does pregnancy affect your dental health?
Certain changes in your body and bodily functions during pregnancy can affect your teeth and gums. Such as:
Pregnancy can increase the level of certain hormones in your body, like progesterone and oestrogen. These can increase the risk for all kinds of oral health problems in your body.
Pregnancy changes your body, as well as your food habits. It might require you to eat certain food items more during pregnancy, which you might not have eaten otherwise. These food items can lead to affecting your dental or oral health. During pregnancy, some people often develop a condition known as Pica. This condition kind of compels them to eat things that can have adverse effect on their oral health. Large amounts of ice-cream or even non-edible things, for instance.
You might brush and floss your teeth comparatively lesser than you did before you got pregnant. This might possibly be because your gums become tender during pregnancy, for some pregnant people, brushing and flossing can cause them to feel nauseated (making you feel sick in your stomach)
These changes can increase your risk for certain dental problems during pregnancy, including:
Cavities, tooth decay or caries-
These are visible but tiny, decaying and damaged areas on the surface of your teeth. Being pregnant makes you more susceptible to cavities. You might also unwillingly pass the bacteria that causes cavities to your baby during pregnancy and after birth. This is not good for the baby because it can cause problems for your child later in their life.
Mercury-free dental fillings and fillings containing mercury (amalgam or silver fillings)-
It is necessary to get your cavities treated and filled before they spiral out of control. But, if you are pregnant, it is important to get your filled only with mercury free dental fillings. Cavities filled with silver fillings or dental amalgam are capable to threatening the health and wellbeing of your baby. An amalgamation is a chemical blend of different substances, namely chemicals and metals. Dental amalgams usually contain mercury in large quantities. For your reference, mercury is a silvery, shiny and toxic metal, that is also used in the manufacturing of thermometers.
If your body contains mercury in higher quantities inside your body, you are likely to pass it on to the placenta inside your body, or while nursing the baby. Scientific researches have claimed that pregnant people who have been exposed to mercury fillings or mercury in any form are at a higher risk of a miscarriage, preeclampsia and babies with low birth weight, as compared to people who haven’t been exposed to mercury fillings. Mercury also can also harm the functions of the brain, kidneys and other organs.
The US Food and Drug Administration or FDA recommends that you don’t get any dental fillings if you are either pregnant, or even planning to get pregnant. If you do need to get a dental cavity filled, you can ask your dental health expert for a mercury free resin dental filling. This filling is designed to have the same colour as your teeth. It is chemically composed of a type of plastic mixed with powdered glass. Composite resin fillings don’t pose a threat to your health or to the health of your baby, because they don’t contain harmful metals like mercury.
Having said that, the FDA also does not recommend that you get your dental amalgam fillings removed that you already have unless your dentist says that there is an issue with the filling.
Gingivitis is the swelling up, inflammation and redness in the gums. If left unattended, it can easily spiral into something way more serious. The hormones secreted in your body during pregnancy can increase your risk of getting gingivitis. It shown that around 60-70% of the people who are pregnant struggle with gingivitis. The tell-tale signs and symptoms of gingivitis include:
- Redness and swelling
- Tenderness in the gums
- Bleeding of the gums, even when you brush your teeth gently
- Shiny gums
Higher levels of the hormones like progesterone and oestrogen are secreted in the body during pregnancy. These hormones can temporarily loosen the tissues and bones that keep your teeth in place. This can make your teeth loose.
Periodontal disease (Popularly known as periodontitis or gum disease).
If a situation of gingivitis goes unsupervised, it can cause the gums to suffer from periodontal diseases. This causes serious infection in the gums and troubles the jaw bones that are responsible for holding the teeth in their place. If your teeth get loose, you might as well have to get it extracted or uprooted.
Oral diseases like Periodontitis can also lead to bacteraemia, which is a situation where the bacteria reach the bloodstream. This is a serious condition that needs immediate medical supervision. Smoking can have unfathomable adverse effects on the gums, often leading up to a gum disease.
Pregnancy tumours (also called pyogenic granuloma).
These tumours are not malignant in nature. In other words, they are not cancerous. These are simple lump like structures that form on the gums, especially between the teeth. Pregnancy tumours usually look raw and red, and tend to bleed very easily. These lumpy structures are caused when there is way too much plaque accumulation. For your reference, plaque is a sticky film like formation on the surface of the teeth. These tumours usually go away without needing any severe medical attention, after the baby is born. However, in many rare cases, these tumours have to be removed by a dental health expert.
If you are struggling with vomiting tendencies caused by the morning sickness, your teeth might be exposed to way too much stomach acid at regular intervals. This acid might harm the enamel or the hard outer surface of the teeth. Nausea and vomiting of pregnancy (NVP), also popularly known as morning sickness, thankfully, happens only during the first few months of pregnancy.
What are signs and symptoms of dental problems during pregnancy?
If you happen to come across signs or symptoms of a dental illness, seek immediate help from your dental health expert or your prenatal care provider. Signs, however, are different from that of symptoms. Signs of a condition are something that others can see on you, like a rash or swelling. Whereas, a symptom is something that only you will be able to feel or experience, like a lump inside your mouth.
Periodontitis and Adverse Pregnancy Outcomes
There has been way too much discussion in the recent years about the relationship never maternal periodontitis and pregnancy outcomes. While there is no cemented conclusion, an overview of 23 systematically conducted studies through 2016 have concluded that the connection exists between periodontitis and pre-mature or preterm birth, low birthweight babies, and the development of preeclampsia.
Some more research is needed to finalise and seal the deal once and for all. To determine the relationship between periodontitis or gum disease and the pregnancy outcomes. However, should periodontitis start developing during the span of your pregnancy, scaling and root planning is recognized as the safest options to deal with it.
The statement issued by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (ACOG) on oral care during pregnancy and for the time after that states that “despite the lack of evidence for a causal relationship between periodontal disease and adverse pregnancy outcomes, the treatment of maternal periodontal disease during pregnancy is not associated with any adverse maternal or birth outcomes,” and “prenatal periodontal therapy is associated with the improvement of maternal oral health.”
Signs and symptoms of dental problems include:
- Bad breath
- Loosening of teeth
- Mouth sores or lumps on the gums
- Increased gaps between your teeth
- Receding gums
- Accumulation of pus along your gumline
- Red, swollen, tender or shiny; or bleeding gums.
If you are experiencing a sharp pain or swelling, it is recommended that you fix an appointment with your dental health expert right away. If you seem to have a dental infection, you need quick treatment to help prevent it from reaching your baby.
How can you prevent dental problems during pregnancy?
Go for dental check-ups at regular intervals before and during pregnancy. During your visits, you might want to talk to your dentists about:
If you’re pregnant or are looking forward to get pregnant.
Talk to him about the medicines you take. This includes every medicine from prescription drugs to over the counter drugs, health supplements and everything else.
Let him know if your pregnancy is high-risk. High-risk simply means that you, your baby or maybe both of you are at an increased risk for problems during pregnancy. Your pregnancy may be high-risk if you happen to be struggling with a chronic health condition, you have complications from your previous pregnancy or if you are struggling with some other health conditions that can have an adverse effect on your health or the health of your baby.
If your prenatal care provider has specifically spoken to you about your oral health.
We cannot emphasise enough on the importance of being under regular dental check-ups before and during pregnancy, so your dentist can look for and cure your dental problems at the earliest. Regular teeth cleaning procedures can help you keep your teeth and gums healthy.
Are dental X-rays safe during pregnancy?
X-rays are an important part of a regular dental check-up. They can throw light at the impending dental issues, or issues with your gums and jaws, and nip them at the bud. An X-ray is a medical test that makes use radiation to take a picture on film. Radiation energy that can be harmful to your health if you’re exposed to it for longer periods of time.
To answer your question, dental X-rays are safe during pregnancy. This procedure uses very small amounts of radiations, and your dental health expert will possibly cover you with a special apron or sheet, and collar you to protect your baby and you. However, should you need an X-ray, make sure that your dental health expert is aware of your pregnancy or that you are looking forward to it.
How are dental problems treated during pregnancy?
If you are struggling with a dental or oral ailment that requires immediate medical attention, make sure that your dental health knows about your pregnancy. Based on your condition and the stage of pregnancy you’re in, you might also have to get the dental ailment treated. Treatments that are safe during pregnancy include:
Medicine, including pain killers and antibiotics to treat infections.Should you need any medication, your dentist will prescribe something that is safe for you and the baby. Again, you can talk to your prenatal caregiver about the medicines that your dental health expert might have prescribed. It would be wise to not consume any medicine without consulting with your prenatal care giver.
What can you do to help prevent dental problems?
Here’s how you can help keep your teeth and gums healthy:
Maintain a healthy dental and oral hygiene regimen by brushing your teeth with fluoride toothpaste twice a day and floss once a day. Use a toothbrush with soft bristles. Regular brushing and flossing can remove plaque and help keep your teeth and gums healthy.
If you cannot seem to brush your teeth because of the morning sickness or nausea , try using antacids or rinse your mouth with a mixture of 1 teaspoon baking soda in a cup of water. Rinsing can help you deal with the amount of acid in your mouth. Antacids, as the name suggests, help neutralize stomach acid. You can conveniently get them over the counter without a prescription from your nearest pharmacy. But don’t consume any medicine—even the ones that you can obtain OTC—without consulting your prenatal care provider.
Visit your dentist at regular intervals for your dental check-up (twice a year), even during pregnancy. During the visit, inform your dentist about your pregnancy.
Get into the habit of a healthy and clean diet, and most importantly limit the intake of sweet or sugary food items. Healthy food items include fruits and vegetables, meat with low fat content, whole grain breads , pasta and low fat or toned daily products. Replace sugary beverages with water or fresh juice. Eating heathy food items provides you and your baby with all kinds of important nutrients. Your baby’s teeth start developing between 3 and 6 months of pregnancy. Nutrients like calcium, protein, phosphorus, and vitamins A, C and D, help your baby’s teeth grow healthy.
If you’re craving things like large amounts of ice, paste or dirt, discuss it with your prenatal care provider.
Quit smoking. If you need help to quit, consult your prenatal care provider.
Pregnancy can significantly increase the risk of oral health conditions such as Gingivitis and dental caries. It is recommended that you consult both your obstetrician and dentist on the importance of good oral hygiene throughout the pregnancy and post-partum. Should you require regular or emergency dental care, including the use of local anaesthetics and radiographs are safe for both the mother and the foetus.