Are you pregnant, breastfeeding or trying to conceive? Pregnancy and birth can bring huge changes to your body and this includes your oral health. These changes can make expectant mothers more susceptible to gum disease and inflammation. According to the National Childbirth Trust, 40% of pregnant women get some kind of gum disease. Studies have also shown a link between periodontal gum disease and premature births or low birth weight in babies, with a risk of other health conditions affecting eyesight, hearing and general development. It is vital therefore that we endeavour to take extra care of our teeth while pregnant and during breastfeeding.
Changes to your hormones increase your blood flow and can make your gums more vulnerable and sensitive to bacteria leading to gum disease. Gums can become more easily irritated, with signs including redness, swelling and tenderness. You may also notice your gums bleeding when you brush. Pregnancy gingivitis is common during the second trimester.
Other effects include wobbly teeth, tooth erosion, decay and benign gum lesions. Some women report minor enlargements on their gums that bleed easily, known as pregnancy epulis or pregnancy granuloma. These may require specialist cleaning and treatment from a dentist.
Once you know you are pregnant, you should inform your dentist, who will be able to advise you on looking after your teeth and gums. If you need any medications or treatment, it is important that your dentist is aware so that they can prescribe treatments that are safe for you and your baby. Regular dental examinations can help your dentist monitor your oral health and advise you of any changes. The sooner potential issues are spotted, the less invasive treatment will be.
Here are a few other bits of advice for taking care of your teeth during pregnancy…
Brush carefully along the gum line to prevent the build up of bacteria and gum disease. Dentists recommend using a soft toothbrush. You should be brushing twice a day.
Toothpaste that contains fluoride will help strengthen your teeth and prevent decay. Avoid mouthwashes that contain alcohol as these can affect the baby’s development. You should also floss daily to get rid of bacteria from between teeth.
To help combat gum inflammation, you could try a daily salt rinse, mixing a teaspoon of salt with a cup of warm water and swishing it around your mouth before spitting it out. The salt acts as an anti inflammatory and can make it harder for bacteria to multiply.
Maintaining healthy teeth and gums is key to preventing decay and tooth loss. Drink plenty of water, not only to stay hydrated, but also because water contains fluoride which helps strengthen teeth. Stay away from sugary foods and drinks if possible and stick to healthy food rich in calcium and vitamin D, such as cheese, milk, eggs and fatty fish. If you crave sugary foods, try to swap for sugar free alternatives.
Gum disease during pregnancy is most prevalent in mothers who smoke. Not only is smoking bad for your overall health and that of your baby, it can also lead to serious oral health issues, including tooth loss.
Chewing sugarless gum is another way to help prevent plaque from building up. Gum that contains xylitol can help prevent tooth decay, as xylitol helps kills harmful bacteria in your mouth.
The majority of pregnant women will experience morning sickness to differing degrees of severity. Gastric reflux, also known as heartburn is another common side effect of pregnancy. Both cause your stomach acid to rise and coat your teeth, with the acid causing dental erosion and dissolving the teeth’s enamel protection. This increases your risk of decay.
While it may feel unpleasant, dentists recommend not to brush your teeth for up to an hour after experiencing vomiting or reflux. This allows the enamel time to recover. Instead, you can rinse your mouth with water and smear some fluoride toothpaste on your teeth. This helps freshen your mouth as well as strengthening the enamel.
One tip many women swear by is to mix one teaspoon of baking soda with a cup of water and rinse your mouth. The baking soda alkali acts to neutralise the acid coating your teeth.
It can be hard to brush your teeth when suffering from morning sickness as the sensation may make you gag. If this is the case, try a small, soft headed brush and take your time while brushing, particularly towards the back of the mouth. If possible, try to brush your teeth later in the morning when the sickness might have passed. Close your eyes and focus on your breathing to help dispel feelings of nausea.
If your toothpaste is making the nausea worse during brushing, try changing the brand you use, or brushing with just water, smearing fluoride toothpaste over your teeth afterwards. Don’t rinse afterwards. Try to get back to brushing regularly as soon as possible though as this is not a replacement for brushing with toothpaste.
After your child is born, dental problems can still persist. Breastfeeding mothers can be more vulnerable to tooth decay, so it is important to keep up good oral hygiene habits. In some countries, dental care is free during pregnancy, up until the child is a year old.
While nursing, it is important to maintain a healthy diet, containing plenty of calcium and vitamin D. As the body produces milk, the mother can experience a temporary loss of bone density. After the baby is weaned, your teeth should go back to normal. But it is still important to keep up good habits and a healthy diet. For women aged 19-50 the recommended calcium intake is 1000mg.
Pregnancy can make existing dental issues worse. Which is why it’s important to look after your oral health and ensure it is in good condition where possible, before you conceive. Untreated or undiagnosed periodontal disease can become exacerbated during pregnancy and in some cases lead to tooth loss. You are also less likely to experience dental issues while pregnant if you have good oral hygiene before conceiving.
If you are planning on trying for a baby, we recommend visiting your dentist to check on the health of your teeth and gums. If you need any procedures, it is best to schedule them in before getting pregnant, as morning sickness can make dental treatment and examinations difficult and uncomfortable, as can lying down on your back for extended periods. Some treatments should not be carried out during pregnancy if possible, such as the replacement of amalgam fillings or dental x-rays. Additionally, due to the chemicals used in teeth whitening, you should not whiten your teeth during pregnancy.
Having healthy teeth and gums during pregnancy and breastfeeding is very important. Your oral health can have far reaching consequences on your overall health and that of your baby. The best way to keep track of your dental health and hygiene is with regular visits to your dentist. To find out more, book an appointment with your local dental surgeon today.