Woman receiving dental care during pregnancy

Dental Care Before and During Pregnancy

Oral Hygiene

When you see a positive sign on a pregnancy test, your first thought is probably not to share the good news with your dentist. But keeping your chompers in good shape and your gums healthy is essential during pregnancy for several reasons.

Ideally, you should schedule a dental checkup before you become pregnant. If any dental issues are found, they can be treated ahead of time. After all, once you’re a mom-to-be, you’ll have enough to think about. You don’t need to add toothaches or gum disease to the list. Treating dental problems means one less thing to worry about.

How Pregnancy Affects Your Teeth and Gums

There is an old wives’ tale, “Gain a child, lose a tooth.” Although that tale is not true, pregnancy can affect your teeth. During pregnancy, you expect your tummy to grow and you may have even anticipated a little morning sickness. But you didn’t sign on for cavities and bleeding gums. So what gives? You can blame those pesky pregnancy hormones on changes to your teeth and gums.

During pregnancy, you have an increased risk of developing gum disease and cavities. Hormones, which increase during pregnancy, may make it easier for bacteria to grow and lead to gingivitis.

Some women also develop morning sickness, which means you’re dealing with increased acid in your mouth. This increase in acid damages tooth enamel. Morning sickness may also cause some women to slack off a little on their oral hygiene. If brushing and flossing trigger a gag reflex, you may rush through your morning dental routine and not be as thorough.

Now, it’s not just your tummy that swells during pregnancy. Your gums can also become swollen, sensitive and prone to bleeding. Changing hormone levels can lead to inflammation. Increased blood flow throughout your body may also contribute to swollen and sensitive gums.

Why Dental Care is So Important During Pregnancy

Good oral hygiene is important throughout your life. But during pregnancy, it’s even more critical. That’s because dental conditions, such as gum disease, can also affect your baby.

Some studies indicate a link between gum disease and premature birth. The theory is that bacteria, which causes gingivitis, can affect the uterus. Your body may increase production of prostaglandins, which helps control inflammation. But prostaglandins also promote uterine contractions.

If prostaglandin production is increased due to a bacterial infection in the gums, it might lead to premature contractions and early labor. Babies born prematurely are at a higher risk to be low birth weight and have medical problems.

Precautions to Keep in Mind

You want to do everything you can for your little one’s wellbeing while you’re pregnant. You’re exercising, eating right, and have given up your favorite cocktails. If you need dental work during pregnancy, it’s natural to wonder if it’s safe for you and your baby.

The good news is that according to research published in the Journal of the American Dental Association, routine dental treatment using anesthetics does not appear to be harmful during pregnancy. The study indicated that dental anesthetics do not appear to increase the rate of miscarriages, premature births or medical problems in newborns.

Routine dental procedures, such as fillings can decrease the chance of infection that could be harmful to you and your baby. Keep in mind, if you need an x-ray before a dental procedure, that’s usually safe as well. A leaded apron will be placed on your tummy before the x-ray to minimize radiation exposure. If your baby bump is not a giveaway that you’re pregnant, make sure to let your dentist and dental assistant know.

If possible, having dental work performed in your second trimester may be your best bet, especially if nausea in early pregnancy is a problem. By the third trimester, it may be a little more uncomfortable to lie on your back during the treatment.

So if you have an aching tooth or a cavity that needs repair, you can feel pretty comfortable it’s safe. But what about other procedures, such as tooth whitening?

Tooth whitening products usually contain carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide. The peroxide can be absorbed by the body. Tooth whitening products have not been found to have adverse effects on babies in utero. But they have also not been studied extensively for safety in pregnancy. Your best bet is to wait until your little bundle arrives before having your teeth whitened.

Healthy Dental Habits During Pregnancy

Some changes to your body during pregnancy are expected. But teeth and gum problems do not have to be inevitable. In fact, there are several things you can do to keep your mouth healthy for the entire nine months and beyond.

  • Eat a healthy diet: Make sure you’re getting enough of important nutrients including calcium and vitamin A, C and D. Eat a variety of veggies, fresh fruits, lean protein and healthy grains.
  • Limit sweet treats: The sugar from foods, such as ice cream and cookies, are not good for your teeth. Bacteria in your mouth feed off the sugar and increase acid development, which can harm teeth. If you do indulge in a sweet treat, try to brush your teeth right after eating.
  • Continue good oral hygiene: Brush twice daily with a fluoride toothpaste. Use a soft bristle toothbrush, which is safer for your teeth. Since your gums can become sore, a soft bristle may also be more comfortable. Also, don’t forget to floss once a day to remove any food particles that can contribute to bad breath and gingivitis. If nausea is making brushing your teeth a chore, try brushing slower, which may not provoke retching.
  • See your dentist: Continue to see your dentist as recommended for routine checkups and cleanings. Although in most cases, routine dental treatment is safe during pregnancy, if you have any concerns, talk with your doctor and dentist.

Pregnancy brings a lot of changes. But don’t let your good dental habits change. In between shopping for maternity clothes and preparing for your little one, be sure to see your dentist for a checkup. Keeping your mouth healthy is good for both you and your baby.