During and after pregnancy
Pregnancy can be an exciting time. There are names to be chosen, cute clothes to be bought and the joy of bringing a new person into the world to be experienced. It can however be a challenging time in terms of health. Changes in hormones mean many women face various issues including oral health issues.
Many have heard the saying ‘one tooth for every pregnancy’, but this is thankfully an urban myth. Developing babies cannot sap calcium from teeth as adult teeth are complete, and do not reabsorb and change like bones. Hormone changes brought about by pregnancy may cause some changes to oral health, but, as with other oral health issues, can be managed effectively.
Here are some important tips about pregnancy and oral health that will assist women in ensuring good oral health throughout pregnancy and beyond.
Whether you are pregnant or not, everyone should maintain good oral hygiene. It is important to have a daily routine of care established so that you have a good foundation.
Brush twice a day with a soft toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste. Use dental floss and mouthwash to clean between teeth where the toothbrush cannot reach. Just these simple steps will ensure that plaque (bacteria, saliva and remnants) does not build up.
Also visit your dentist regularly- if you need dental treatment, it may be more comfortable for you to have this done before pregnancy in case you experience nausea or tiredness as your pregnancy progresses.
If you are already pregnant or suspect you are, it is important to inform your dentist as it may affect the type of care necessary for you. For example, your dentist may choose to postpone x-rays and elective procedures until after the birth. If there is an emergency that required general anaesthesia or prescribed medication, your obstetrician should be consulted.
There are many common oral health issues that pregnant women may face. Again, simple steps can be taken to deal with each issue.
1. Plaque and gingivitis
When you are pregnant, hormonal changes may lead to an increase in the amount of plaque on your teeth. If plaque isn’t removed, it can cause gingivitis or even gum disease. Symptoms include bleeding and swelling of gums.
Some pregnant women suffer ‘pregnancy gingivitis’, with the condition likely to appear in the second trimester. Here, hormonal changes induce bleeding in the gums despite the best possible hygiene measures. Your dentist can identify this. Gums usually revert to normal after baby is born.
If not treated, gingivitis can develop into more severe forms of gum disease such as periodontal disease. Periodontal disease is a chronic bacterial infection of the gum tissue that supports a person’s teeth, where the bacteria start to move deeper and thrive in the gap between the gum and tooth, causing the attachment of the tooth and it’s supporting tissues to break down. If identified, this must be treated as a matter of urgency as gum disease has been linked to premature birth and low birth-weight in babies.
2. Morning sickness
If you suffer from morning sickness and vomiting, the acid from your stomach contents has the potential to dissolve some of the tooth enamel. To avoid damage to your teeth, don’t brush the ‘softened’ tooth enamel if you have just vomited. Rinse with water and swish around some toothpaste applied to your teeth with a finger to give your teeth a fluoride boost and freshen your breath. Wait at least 30min before brushing. Your dentist may also prescribe stronger re-mineralising agents.
This can sometimes occur when you are brushing your teeth. If you feel sick, try to concentrate on breathing through your nose while cleaning your back teeth. Alternatively, you may need to brush without toothpaste. A fluoride mouth-rinse or rubbing toothpaste on teeth with a finger can be used after brushing.
Cravings in themselves are not a health issue but if you are frequently snacking on high carbohydrate foods, you may risk getting dental caries (decay). Try to vary the snacks you are eating and choose foods low in sugar, fat and salt but high in fibre. In addition, drink lots of water and milk.
Keys to maintaining good oral health
In addition to being aware of these specific issues, it is important to keep up with your oral hygiene routine of brushing twice daily, flossing, and mouth-rinsing. Again, it is important to keep visiting your dentist regularly to monitor your oral health. Your dentist will be able to clean your teeth thoroughly of any plaque build-up.
Your baby’s oral health
Mother’s-to-be can also directly affect the oral health of their babies.
For example, babies begin to develop their teeth and bones in the fourth month of pregnancy. The calcium and phosphorous they need to do this comes from what you eat and, if necessary, from your bones. Your baby will need even more of these minerals when you are seven to nine mouths pregnant.
The best way to obtain these minerals is through the intake of dairy products or, if you are having difficulty consuming the recommended daily intake for pregnant women is 1100mg during pregnancy and 1200mg while breastfeeding.
Also, speak to your dentist about dental care for your new baby.