Pregnancy can be havoc on your teeth. Morning sickness, a more sensitive gag reflex, tender gums, and fatigue may cause you to neglect routine oral care such as brushing and flossing. If that’s not bad enough, cravings for sugary or acidic foods and drinks and frequent snacking can contribute to tooth decay.
On top of all that, those pregnancy hormones also make pregnant women more susceptible to bleeding and gum disease, which could cause you to have a premature and low birth weight baby. So if you’ve always had a laissez-faire approach to dental health, you’ll really need to step it up when pregnant. It’s important, not just for you, but for your baby too!
Dr Angela Ngauw, a dentist with Healthway Medical Group and a young mother herself, explains.
How does pregnancy affect the gums and teeth?
During pregnancy, the risk of getting gum disease increases because of hormonal changes. The rising progesterone levels in your body increase blood supply to your gums and change the way your gums respond to irritants in plaque. As a result, your gums may be tender, appear more reddish, and bleed more easily during brushing.
Some women may also develop pregnancy granulomas. These are red nodular growths near the gum line. These growths have a tendency to bleed and may interfere with speech and eating if they are large. They usually resolve spontaneously after delivery, although some may require surgical intervention if they are causing functional problems.
What oral health issues are more likely to occur during pregnancy?
Some of the more common oral health problems pregnant women may face are gum disease, dental erosion, and tooth decay.
Gum disease during pregnancy is known as pregnancy gingivitis. Your gums are red and swollen, or bleed easily during brushing. These symptoms may be severe in some women. If you already have gingivitis before pregnancy, it may worsen during pregnancy.
Left untreated, pregnancy gingivitis may progress into a more serious form of the disease known as periodontitis, in which the gums and underlying bone are destroyed. The gums may shrink away from the teeth, causing the teeth to loosen and in extreme cases even fall out.
Does morning sickness affect my teeth?
Yes. During pregnancy, many women experience morning sickness and acid reflux. Frequent exposure of the teeth to strong stomach acids can cause dental erosion, where your tooth enamel softens and gets destroyed. This may lead to increased sensitivity.
So I should brush my teeth immediately after vomiting, right?
No, that will further wear down the softened enamel surface. It is best to rinse with water to remove any acid residue from the teeth, and wait at least half an hour before brushing.
If I have gum disease during pregnancy, will it affect my baby?
Research has shown that a link between gum disease during pregnancy and the delivery of premature and low birth weight babies. There have also been studies that suggest that bacteria that cause inflammation in the gums may release toxins which enter the bloodstream and interfere with foetal development, as well as trigger the production of certain chemicals which may induce premature labor. A child born prematurely or of low birth weight may face an increased risk of long term health problems.
Does pregnancy leech calcium from the mother’s teeth and increase brittleness?
It is a myth that pregnancy leeches calcium from the mother’s teeth. The increase in calcium demand from the developing foetus would need to be met by the calcium present in the diet. If there is inadequate calcium intake, the body will draw from the calcium stores in the mother’s bones, and not the teeth. It is important to make sure that the recommended amount of calcium is consumed to prevent adverse effects on the baby’s development, as well as reduce the mother’s risk of osteoporosis later in life.
When is a good time for pregnant women to visit the dentist?
Pregnant women can visit the dentist at any stage during pregnancy for routine care, although the best time would be during the second trimester. The first trimester is a critical period in which the foetus is developing its organ systems, during which it is highly sensitive to environmental influences. In the third trimester, it may be very uncomfortable for a pregnant woman to lie on her back for an extended period of time, and there is also a risk of triggering premature labor. As a precaution, major or aggressive procedures as well as elective, non-urgent treatments should be postponed until after the birth whenever possible.
How should pregnant women to take care of their teeth?
Practise good oral hygiene habits. Brush well with a fluoridated toothpaste twice a day, and floss at least once. Rinse your mouth out with water after episodes of vomiting, and wait at least half an hour after vomiting to brush your teeth. If the toothpaste is causing the morning sickness, changing to a toothpaste with a different flavour may help. Avoid overindulging in sugary cravings, and limit the number of snacks in between meals. Pay attention to any gum changes, and of course, visit your dentist on a regular basis for preventive care.