Pregnancy refers to the period of a baby’s development within the mother’s womb. Before and during pregnancy, a woman receives many recommendations on how to improve their health - to ensure the healthy development of her unborn child.
Throughout every stage or trimester of pregnancy, it’s important to maintain good overall health. Dental health is often overlooked during pregnancy and it’s a factor that can adversely affect the development of a baby, if not well maintained.
Can Pregnancy Cause Dental Problems?
Pregnancy causes many changes to a woman’s body. These changes can affect oral health in several ways.
During pregnancy, there is a change in hormone levels. The placenta produces greater amounts of oestrogen and progesterone. An increase in progesterone causes prostaglandins to be produced, which dilates blood vessels in the gums.
As a result, the gums become inflamed and susceptible to plaque. This is also known as gingivitis. When a person has gingivitis, their gums can appear red, shrunken or swollen.
It’s critical to treat gingivitis early before it can develop into periodontal disease. Periodontal disease is an infection of the gums that can cause teeth to decay and become loose.
Nausea and vomiting during the first 6 to 9 weeks of pregnancy is known as morning sickness. Episodes of morning sickness can be intense. During vomiting, stomach acids are regurgitated and these acids can damage tooth enamel.
Tooth enamel is a protective layer which prevents tooth decay. It’s best not to brush the teeth immediately after a bout of morning sickness, as the acids can further penetrate the teeth. Gargling with fluoridated mouthwash and water is more effective.
Round-shaped growths between teeth can develop during pregnancy. This is known as pregnancy tumours, or pregnancy epulis. These growths usually develop during the second trimester and are benign. They tend to resolve after birth, but can be removed surgically if they persist.
Dietary cravings of a pregnant woman are known to be both surprising and ravenous. However, certain commonly craved foods and substances are not beneficial to dental health. Sugary, spicy and acidic foods can cause tooth enamel to demineralise and become weak. This leaves your teeth prone to decay.
If the cravings of unusual substances like coal or chalk is satisfied during pregnancy, this can lead to chipping or erosion of the teeth. In these cases, it’s best to consult an obstetrician/gynaecologist to find out if these cravings are caused due to nutrient deficiencies.
How Can Poor Dental Health Affect Your Baby?
Poor dental health in pregnancy has been linked to several poor health outcomes for both mother and baby. A focus on maintaining dental health during pregnancy is often neglected. Being aware of potential harms that result from poor dental health during pregnancy can help to prevent them.
Premature labour and low-birth-weight
There is a correlation between periodontal disease and premature births as well as low birth weight in infants. The research suggests that the same bacteria which infects the gums can get into the bloodstream of a pregnant woman and reach the foetus.
This is a high blood pressure disorder which can affect pregnant women. As a result of preeclampsia, the blood supply to the foetus is reduced and can be life-threatening to both mother and child. The presence of periodontal disease increases the chances of developing preeclampsia.
Infant Dental Caries
When the mother has dental cavities which are prevalent, this can increase the infant’s chance of developing tooth decay. Cavity-causing bacteria can develop in an infant’s mouth from birth. Once teeth begin to erupt, this bacteria makes them prone to decay.
How Can Good Nutrition Improve Dental Health In Pregnancy?
Ensuring good nutrition in pregnancy allows for healthy baby development. The foetus places great nutrient demands on a pregnant woman and therefore supplementation is necessary to prevent complications such as premature birth, low-birth weight and preeclampsia.
It is highly recommended that pregnant women meet the daily requirement of 1200mg of dietary calcium intake. Calcium supplementation can reduce the risk of preeclampsia and ensure healthy foetal tooth development.
Getting natural sources of vitamins and minerals can improve the quality of nutrition. Vegetables and fruits, dairy products, fish, meat and eggs rich in vitamins A, C and D should be consumed as part of a balanced diet. This can promote healthy enamel formation.
What Do Dentists Recommend During Pregnancy?
Paying your dentist a visit when you’re pregnant is a good idea to maintain good oral hygiene. The dentist’s recommendations are given on a case-by-case basis.
You will be advised to ensure daily dental care by brushing twice a day and flossing at least once a day. Using a mouthwash or warm salty water to gargle would also be advised to maintain healthy gums.
Your dentist will perform a cleanup of your teeth and evaluate your dental health. You will be treated according to the condition you’re diagnosed with. For example, a dental infection can be treated with antibiotics which are safe for use in pregnancy.
Safety will be the major factor in any decision your dentist makes. The severity of your dental condition will also be assessed. During the first trimester, it’s not advisable for routine X-rays of teeth to be performed as this radiation may affect the baby.
Dental procedures such as extraction may only be recommended during the second trimester. It is difficult to be seated on a dentist’s chair when pregnant and your gums may be more sensitive during this time. Therefore, it’s also recommended to visit your dentist to resolve any dental issues if you are planning your pregnancy.