I think we can all agree that the goal of every pregnancy is to foster the healthiest baby possible. While there are many ways to create the ideal environment for your growing baby, one area that is often overlooked is your mouth.
Pregnant women often get cavities and gum disease. Ignoring oral health during pregnancy can harm the baby. Gum disease while pregnant can lead to premature birth and a small baby.
My wife never had a cavity in her life until right after the birth of our first child. She expected a perfect grade at the dentist, but they informed her that she needed to return for five fillings.
Many people think cavities are normal, but they don't have to be. Your real tooth is always better than any dental work, no matter how good your dentist is.
To fix a cavity, dentists must remove some healthy tooth structures before filling it. Even if most of us have fillings and crowns in our mouths, we should try to prevent new cavities from happening.
While pregnant, the body’s resources are focused on creating and protecting the fetus. That means that the oral environment is just naturally less conducive to teeth and gum health. Pregnancy can make teeth more vulnerable to cavities due to changes in eating habits and vomiting.
Cavities during pregnancy can be costly and inconvenient, which often encourages pregnant women to take care of their oral health. However, the more pressing concern is the health of the gums. As mentioned earlier, oral health in this area can directly affect your baby. To best illustrate this, let’s look at what gum disease is.
I like to describe the gums around our teeth like a turtleneck. A pocket between your tooth and gum tissue of 1-3mm is healthy and can be cleaned by brushing and flossing at home.
Bacteria can get stuck in the gum and cause the pocket to become more profound, leading to erosion at the bottom. As the pocket reaches depths of 4mm and up, brushing and flossing become less and less effective. In those situations, you need the help of a hygienist and their specialized instruments to flush those pockets out.
The gum disease that develops during pregnancy (also known as pregnancy gingivitis) differs slightly from traditional gum disease. During pregnancy, excess progesterone causes the gum tissue to swell and become inflamed. The space between the gum and tooth deepens because the top part of the gum inflames and grows taller. The bottom part of the space does not go down. We sometimes call this “false pocketing.”
While the mechanism of how the pocket gets deeper is different, the health concerns are the same. A deep pocket between your teeth and the overlying gum tissue means that harmful bacteria from your mouth can enter your bloodstream and cause negative outcomes like preterm labor and low birth weight for your baby.
So now that we understand the concerns and negative outcomes of cavities and gum disease during pregnancy, let’s move on to the good news. It is all preventable! Those women who go into their pregnancy with an oral health plan can usually avoid all these negative outcomes.
The following are suggestions that I give to all of my pregnant patients or who are thinking about having a baby:
Continue seeing your dentist for your 6-month cleanings
Cleanings at any point during your pregnancy are considered safe for you and your baby. Also, many insurance companies will pay for an extra cleaning during pregnancy, so it’s a great idea to take advantage of this benefit if your insurance allows it.
Buy a Sonicare or Oral B electric toothbrush
While these electric brushes are much better at cleaning the teeth, they are especially good at stimulating the gum tissue and flushing out the bacteria that accumulates along the gum line. If your gums are sensitive during pregnancy, you can run your brush under hot water to soften the bristles.
Buy a Slate Electric Flosser
No product flushes out your gum pockets between the teeth like the vibrating Gum Sweeps on the Slate Electric Flosser. The vibrating floss also stimulates the gum tissue, which increases blood flow, decreasing inflammation, redness, tenderness, and bleeding. It also simultaneously prevents cavities from forming between the teeth.
Brush and floss twice a day (thrice if you can)
If you aren’t already, there’s no better time to get in the habit of brushing and flossing right when you wake up and right before bed than during a pregnancy.
Rinse your mouth
If you have reflux or vomit due to morning sickness, rinse your mouth with water several times right after to help reduce the harmful effects of the acid on your teeth.
Try not to snack all day
We all know pregnancy cravings are real, but every time you eat or drink something, it takes your saliva 30-45 minutes to get rid of the acids in the foods you eat. If you are snacking or nursing a Diet Coke all day, your mouth is constantly in that acidic range where cavities love to occur.
Avoid glide floss
While many people love the way glide floss slides between their tight contacts, a recent study out of Harvard found that glide floss contains a high percentage of PFAS, a chemical proven to cause certain types of cancer, low birth weight, and preterm labor. Certain types of electric flossers also use glide floss.