Women who are planning to start a family often are motivated to get healthier by exercising, eating better, quitting tobacco and avoiding alcohol. Pre-pregnancy also is a good time to pay attention to the health of teeth and gums.
Women might have heard about losing teeth during pregnancy because of the body stealing calcium from the teeth. But if dietary calcium is lacking during pregnancy, the body provides the mineral from bones, not teeth, according to the American Dental Association.
In all stages of life, tooth decay begins with plaque, which is a film of bacteria on teeth. The bacteria transform sugars and starch into harmful acids. Tooth decay results from repeated acid attacks on tooth enamel. Plaque also irritates gums, making them red, tender and likely to bleed. This condition is called gingivitis and can lead to serious gum diseases. So why do women seem to be at risk for developing dental problems during pregnancy?
During pregnancy, women with previously healthy smiles might notice their gums are swollen and bleed easily when they brush their teeth. This condition sometimes is referred to as pregnancy gingivitis and especially is common from the second to eighth months of pregnancy. It is the result of changing hormone levels — in particular, an increased level of progesterone. In some cases, pregnancy gingivitis can become severe and contribute to pre-term labor and low-birth-weight babies.
Dental health during pregnancy
■ Brush teeth twice each day with fluoride toothpaste.
■ Clean between teeth daily with floss or interdental cleaners.
■ Drink water or milk, and avoid soda and sweet beverages.
■ Avoid sugary snacks. Sweet cravings are common during pregnancy, but the more frequently you snack on sweets, the greater the risk for developing tooth decay.
■ Eat a healthy, balanced diet. Your baby’s first teeth begin to develop about three months into your pregnancy. Talk to your health care provider about foods rich in calcium and about prenatal vitamins.
■ Make an appointment to see your dentist. Don’t skip a dental checkup and cleaning because you are pregnant. Now is a very important time for an exam of your teeth and gums. Advise your dentist if you are pregnant or suspect that you might be pregnant, if there is a change in your health and of medications you take.
Your dentist might recommend more frequent cleanings during your second trimester or early third trimester to help you avoid problems.
If tooth decay develops during pregnancy, your physician can be consulted to determine anesthetics and medications that you safely can take.
Health during morning sickness
■ Vomiting exposes teeth to stomach acid, which can damage teeth. To neutralize acid in your mouth after vomiting, mix a teaspoon of baking soda in a cup of water to use as a mouth rinse, and then brush your teeth.
■ Eat small amounts of healthy foods throughout the day rather than large meals, and avoid sugary foods.
■ Chew sugarless or xylitol-containing gum after eating.
Protect your baby’s teeth
Bacteria that causes tooth decay in a child usually comes from its caregiver. If you do not have healthy teeth and gums, your child likely will develop the same problems. Taking care of your health and the health of your mouth also takes care of your baby.
Hope Cook and Beth Watson are public health nurses with the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, and Toni Telford is a coordinator for Cavity Free at Three. Northwest Colorado Dental Coalition Executive Director Janet Pearcy also contributed to this article. Routt County’s Cavity Free at Three program is overseen by First Impressions of Routt County and Horizons Specialized Services. The VNA and Northwest Colorado Dental Coalition are members of Routt County’s Early Childhood Council.