When you fall pregnant, your dental health probably doesn’t top your list of priorities.
However, it really should.
You see, pregnant women are more susceptible to gum disease and tooth decay, due to hormonal changes and excessive vomiting that erodes enamel.
This may not seem like a big deal – but it can be.
Gum disease (even the mild kind) can harm the development of your unborn baby, by increasing your risk of having a premature birth.
Thankfully, taking care of your oral hygiene drastically reduces this risk.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of public health awareness around this connection.
Many women know little about the pregnancy risks associated with neglecting their dental health – which tends to naturally happen if nausea turns the simple act of brushing your teeth into a stomach-turning chore.
We know that expectant mothers care deeply about giving their babies the best start to life, so it’s vital that we talk about the importance of protecting your teeth and gums during pregnancy.
Here’s what recent research in Australia says about pregnancy gingivitis:
Research from the University of Sydney shows that untreated mild gum inflammation (gingivitis) may trigger premature births and delay the development of babies.
Thankfully, the same study shows that women with pregnancy gingivitis can halve this risk by getting suitable dental treatment.
This is what senior author Professor Joerg Eberhard (Chair of Lifespan Oral Health) said about the research:
“Our study shows that if gum inflammation is treated during pregnancy, the risk of a baby being born preterm is reduced by approximately 50 percent or the birthweight increases around 100 grams in babies born with low birth weight.”
“In fact, the risk was halved if the mother had good oral health, which is a compelling finding.”
This isn’t the only research on this topic:
It seems there isn’t a widespread scientific consensus on the link between oral health and premature births (studies have been limited, with contradictory results).
However, a few other scientific studies do suggest that birthing outcomes can be negatively influenced by oral infection.
This study from the Journal of Clinical Periodontology is one such example. It found that early birth rates are 45 percent more common when pregnant women have untreated tooth decay or fillings.
It’s clear that more research is needed on this important topic.
In the meantime, it’s important for expectant mothers to err on the side of caution and do everything they can to protect their oral health.
How do you know if you have pregnancy gingivitis or more severe gum disease?
Signs of pregnancy gingivitis (mild gum disease):
- Sensitive lips
- Dark gums (dusky red or purple in colour)
- Bad breath
- Bleeding, puffy or swollen gums
- Soft gums
- Gaps between your teeth and gums
Mild pregnancy gingivitis can be easily treated and reversed with professional deep-cleaning, as long as you book an appointment with your dentist when you notice possible symptoms.
Early treatment is important, to stop the condition from developing to periodontitis, which is harder to treat.
There’s a common misconception that all dental treatments are unsafe during gestation, but this isn’t true at all. Treatment for pregnancy gingivitis is fairly straightforward and poses no risk to your unborn child. At any rate, let your dentist know that you’re pregnant and they will take extra precautions if the situation calls for it.
Signs of periodontitis (more severe gum disease):
- Gum inflammation and swelling
- Bleeding gums that are sore
- A bad taste in your mouth
- Gums recede from your teeth
- Pus or yellow fluid on gums
- Persistent bad breath
- Teeth are loose
- There is pain or sensitivity when you chew food
- Gaps between teeth and gums
Don’t be discouraged if you have periodontitis, this can also be treated successfully if detected in time.
How to prevent pregnancy gingivitis and other dental problems from occurring in the first place:
- Rinse your mouth with warm water after vomiting. If you add a teaspoon of baking soda, this will help to neutralise the acid. Wait an hour after vomiting before brushing your teeth, so the enamel isn’t too soft from all that acid.
- Brush your teeth twice daily with fluoride toothpaste and floss every other day. If you’re feeling nauseous, start with brushing your back teeth to avoid the taste buds on your tongue, and then brush the rest of your mouth. A smaller toothbrush with sensitive toothpaste may be easier to use when you’re feeling unwell.
- For women who experience morning sickness, change your daily brushing routine by brushing your teeth a little later in the day when your nausea has abated.
- Limit your intake of sugary foods, and make sure to rinse your mouth well if you do happen to indulge in your favourite sweets. Use a straw when drinking sweet beverages, to reduce the amount of acid on your teeth.
- Get a lot of calcium, vitamin D, and probiotics into your body, by eating foods such as pasteurised fully cooked eggs, fully cooked fatty fish, and yogurt.
Check out this guide if you want more information about protecting your dental health during pregnancy.